Matt Bloom / KUNC
In the small town of Oak Creek, Colorado, a three-hour drive from Denver, assuming the roads are clear, Jean Bracegirdle, a firefighter and EMT in training, receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
“The fact that he’s here is pretty mind-boggling, as they care enough to reach rural communities,” Bracegirdle said.
The vaccine arrived in Oak Creek via a blue-needle cooler at a new mobile clinic set up by the local health department in Ruth County. Officials used the money from the CARES Act to set things in motion. The current task is huge. Health officials are to distribute the photos to a population of about 25,000 people located in 2,300 square miles of northwestern Colorado.
“It’s exciting to see how the initiative is being taken,” said Bracegard, who was relieved to receive one recently.
In many parts of the country, the spread of COVID-19 vaccines is sporadic, although sometimes chaotic. But some rural communities, where it has been more difficult to provide health care in the past, report success stories in the early stages.
“It’s early, but I think what we can take over the last two weeks is that countries that prioritize in rural areas tend to have a successful spread in rural areas,” said Alan Morgan, chief executive of the National Association. for rural health.
Morgan says some rural communities also simply have fewer logistical barriers and fewer vaccinations.
This may be the case in Kititas County, Washington. Public health officials say they have now offered photos of almost all of their main front-line workers, residents of nursing homes and staff. More than 1,300 people have accepted it, and those numbers are expected to rise as early as Friday.
“In terms of the complexity and scope of the problem, we are not dealing with something like King County [in] the Seattle area, “said Rich Elliott, the county’s chief vaccine distributor.
Elliott is also deputy chief of the Kititas fire department, which has had many forest fire emergencies recently. Emergency management officials were able to quickly adopt many of the same protocols and triads from these wildfire response plans and transfer them to vaccine distribution.
They are now in the enviable position of having some extra doses in this first phase – enough that they recently released photos of 75 high-risk teachers. But Elliott says they are trying not to get too far ahead of the surrounding counties or the Washington state phasing-out plan.
“It doesn’t look good when a health worker at a busy Seattle hospital can’t get a vaccine, and we offer it to teachers just so we don’t waste the vaccine,” Elliott said.
This speaks to the huge variability in availability even from one county to the next. That’s why public health officials warn against reading too much in these obvious early success stories in rural areas.
Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that provincial states such as Maine, Montana, West Virginia and Dakota lead the country in the distribution of vaccines per capita. But this can only be due to the fact that these countries count the numbers faster.
According to the National Rural Health Association, 40 percent of all hospitals in the state of Texas still say they don’t have access to any of the photos. Morgan, the association’s executive director, says health care providers need the federal government to be more transparent and share data so they can understand what’s working and what’s not.
The outgoing Trump administration has largely left the management of the state pandemic.
“What really worries me is to move forward in April and May, when the population can get where the rural population will be at the moment,” Morgan said.
He worries that America in rural areas may continue to be more affected by its urban counterparts when it comes to hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.