ATLANTA—Rural communities across the nation are undertaking innovative strategies to address universal and uniquely rural challenges to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, according to research published by Georgia State University’s Georgia Health Policy Center (GHPC).
A state brief finds several challenges — vaccine scarcity, as well as distribution and communication challenges — when compounded, have set some states behind in terms of administering the vaccine and immunizing its citizens.
In “Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout,” GHPC senior research associate Bill Rencher and co-authors identify the approaches and policies of a few states that have been more successful and lessons from those states. They suggest improvements for others states’ rollout, including enhancing communication and providing administrative and technical support for vaccine providers.
A rural brief shows how many rural communities, in anticipation of an increasing vaccine supply, are building out strategies to ensure equitable distribution, combat vaccine hesitancy and reach isolated populations, including those who are without Internet or transportation. Some of the strategies include:
- Identifying trusted spokespeople such as local health directors and faith-based leaders
- Planning mobile strategies to improve access among hard-to-reach populations
- Assessing local beliefs through surveys to plan targeted education and outreach efforts
- Engaging emergency medical services personnel, medical students and community health workers, many with strong relationships in their communities, for outreach efforts
- Using multimodal communication channels to boost community education
“We are encouraged to hear that rural communities are thinking strategically about using partnerships to build trust and share accurate information with rural residents,” said Tanisa Adimu, co-author of the brief. “Rural communities, although concerned about immediate challenges with vaccine supply, are planning and implementing targeted outreach efforts. By continuing these type of peer conversations, communities can share what is working well in the vaccine rollout in the rural context.”
As part of efforts to support Federal Office of Rural Health Policy grantees, GHPC’s technical assistance team, of which Adimu is a member, facilitated a virtual conversation in early February with rural, frontier and tribal grantees to understand the COVID-19 vaccine rollout experience in rural communities across the country. This brief offers a summary of learnings around local rollout challenges, stories of success and innovation for overcoming barriers to vaccine rollout and a summary of unmet local needs.