How two North State counties plan COVID-19 vaccination outreach in their rural communities
North State public health branches are reaching out to help rural residents get vaccinated against COVID-19.
People living in rural areas are less likely to be vaccinated, according to health officials. Reasons include less access to vaccine information and problems getting to vaccination sites.
Now, with California's deadline to lift pandemic restrictions looming, Shasta and Siskiyou counties plan to bring vaccine information and mobile clinics closer to residents who live in the more rural areas.
While more densely populated areas like Yreka saw worse outbreaks of the virus, vaccination rates in north and west Siskiyou County are a little more than half that of the southern part, public health spokeswoman Angie Cook said.
The same is true of the Intermountain area, and regions north and west of Redding, Shasta County Public Health Branch Director Robin Schurig said.
Their COVID-19 case numbers are lower because they're exposed to fewer people, Schurig said, but that doesn't mean the shouldn't get vaccinated.
Building trust with communities to overcome vaccine hesitancy
Another reason for lower rural vaccination rates is lack of information about vaccines and how to get them, Cook said. “(Many rural residents) don’t have access to the internet, television or newspapers." That makes it challenging for public health to "build the trust needed to reassure vaccine-hesitant individuals that getting vaccinated is safe and effective.”
Going into underrepresented communities to answer vaccine-hesitant people’s questions is part of Shasta County’s vaccination plan, Schurig said. Shasta is facing lower-than-state-average vaccination rates overall, so efforts are directed at underrepresented neighborhoods in the southern part of the county as well as rural areas.
Public health lifting roadblocks when people can't get a ride to vaccine clinic
A third challenge is getting people to vaccination appointments, Cook said. “Many people in rural communities don’t have access to transportation and are unable to drive to the vaccination locations."
Public health branches plan to bring vaccines directly to rural communities.
In May, Shasta County Public Health held vaccination clinics in Lakehead and Happy Valley — both areas that serve rural communities.
“(We’re planning to send) a mobile vaccination unit to rural communities, and to areas with larger populations of people who don't have access to transportation,” Cook said. Siskiyou County sent a survey to people asking for information. Data will be used to determine areas most in need.
Sharing resources to fill in gaps
For health workers at remote sites, staffing can also be a problem.
To counter this, hospitals in the same network share staff, vaccine doses and other resources to make sure none run out of supplies, said Elizabeth Pulatie, Chief Nursing Executive Officer at Mercy Medical Center Mount Shasta. These include Mercy Mt. Shasta, Mercy Redding and St. Elizabeth Community Hospital.
“Fortunately, we have pharmacies and clinics all over the county, not just in Redding, which makes this job easier,” Schurig said.
Pressure to vaccinate more North State residents is mounting over the next two weeks as California prepares to lift restrictions to businesses, and masking and social distancing guidelines — all on June 15.
When that happens, it doesn’t mean the virus will vanish, Schurig said. “If we continue to have big pockets of unvaccinated people, we will continue to have outbreaks and the spread of variants.”
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Jessica Skropanic is a features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers science, arts, social issues and entertainment stories. Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.