The Biden administration recently announced it's sending $100 million to rural health clinics for outreach efforts to increase locals' confidence in the safety of coronavirus vaccines, but that leads to the question of how such efforts can be effective. Many rural health leaders say it's is a delicate business, and say it's counterproductive for advocates to be too assertive about vaccines, seem as if they invade their privacy, or send in outsiders to help, Erin Banco reports for Politico. What will rural public health clinics do with the money if they're reluctant to press locals on the issue?
"Well, they could collaborate with local newspapers and health-care providers," says Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and publisher of The Rural Blog. "Community newspapers are generally trusted sources, and these funds could be used to finance sample-copy editions to reach every household with information from local doctors and other health providers."
In many rural areas, people rarely discuss the vaccine in public, and health leaders worry about alienate friends and family if they push too hard or even broach the subject. Officials Alabama and Louisiana "say their governments have in the past shied away from door knocking, trusting that if they put up enough flyers and promote the safety of the vaccine through the media, people would sign up," Banco reports. "But that strategy is not working. Vaccination rates have declined in recent weeks."
The biggest roadblocks are mistrust of the government, partisan sentiment, and social-media misinformation. "Almost every public-health official, local vaccine volunteer and physician in Alabama and Louisiana who spoke to Politico pointed to social media and the media as the main reason people in their neighborhoods are still holding out on the vaccine," Banco reports. "Their only hope for getting people vaccinated is if the media outlets that message to these areas, primarily Fox News, start advocating people get the shot, instead of pushing them away from the jab." Fox hosts and many Republican lawmakers have recently begun promoting the vaccine, but after months of aggressively questioning its safety and, in some cases, promoting conspiracies, it may be too late to change some people's minds.
Having more single-dose vaccines on hand could help, said one public-health official in rural Fayette County, Ohio, just south of Columbus. County immunization coordinator Amy Friel staffed a tent at the county fair to answer questions and get people scheduled for vaccines, but said it was a tough sell, Nick Evans reports for NPR affiliate WOSU Public Media.
It's difficult to administer vaccines at pop-up events because the multi-dose vials must be refrigerated, and doses end up getting wasted. "If there was a way for us to put it in a single-dose vial, and get out there, oh we’d be all over it," Friel told Evans. "I’d be all over the place, just 'hey do you want your vaccine? I’ve got it right now.'"