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PA Health Leaders Highlight Needs for Effective COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout in Rural Areas

January 13, 2021

Pennsylvania’s rural vaccine providers continue to ramp up their efforts to vaccinate health care personnel, while beginning the months-long campaign to educate the general public about the safety and importance of the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Wednesday, The Center for Rural Pennsylvania Board of Directors hosted a public hearing to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in rural Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s rural health care providers face unique challenges, as their patients often have complex medical needs and must travel farther for care in their communities.

During the hearing, the board heard from Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health; Dr. George Garrow, chief medical officer, Primary Health Network; Steven Johnson, president, UPMC Susquehanna; and Dr. Cary Funk, director of science and society research, Pew Research Center.

Pennsylvania’s rural areas do not always have access to larger pharmacy retail chains, so hospitals and federally qualified health centers will serve a central role in this public health effort to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, the panelists said. “That’s part of why we’re here,” Johnson said. “It’s part of our commitment to our rural communities.”

The panelists highlighted several areas to ensure a successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, including:

  • The need to increase the available COVID-19 vaccine supply, ensuring rural providers are able to meet the demand
  • Coordinated communications strategies to reach rural residents, employers, agricultural leaders, and community-based organizations about COVID-19 and the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine
  • Increased funding and additional personnel to ensure providers have the necessary infrastructure in place to vaccinate the general public

Secretary Levine discussed Pennsylvania’s overall COVID-19 vaccination strategy. Secretary Levine said the state is preparing to adjust its vaccine playbook to reflect new changes this week from the federal government.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced its plan to speed the pace of COVID-19 distribution, releasing the federal government’s entire COVID-19 vaccine supply while calling on states to inoculate people 65 and older, and those under 65 who have underlying health conditions.

Secretary Levine said the state is working to comply with the federal guidance and will soon have access to $100 million in federal funding to aid the overall immunization effort.

“This is really the most complex public health mission that has existed ever,” Secretary Levine said. “We’re trying to vaccinate everyone in the United States, and we’re working on it.”

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

HAP supports Pennsylvania’s hospitals and health systems as they continue their vital work to administer the COVID-19 vaccine across rural Pennsylvania. HAP supports policies at the state and federal level that allow these facilities to continue their stellar work throughout the commonwealth.

For more information, contact Kate Slatt, HAP’s vice president, innovative payment and care delivery; Stephanie Watkins, vice president, state legislative advocacy; or Sarah Lawver, director, advocacy activation.