HARRISBURG – The Center for Rural Pennsylvania Board of Directors today held a virtual public hearing on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines in rural Pennsylvania.
“The Center’s board wanted to learn more about the planned distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines in rural Pennsylvania because we know that rural areas have fewer health care facilities, fewer health care workers, and higher rates of COVID cases per capita,” said Sen. Gene Yaw, chairman of the board. “We also know of the transportation challenges that our rural residents face, and have heard that residents in rural America are more hesitant to get vaccinated.”
At today’s public hearing, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine reviewed the state’s COVID vaccination plan, which is continually changing to meet new federal directives, and the logistical challenges of vaccine distribution. She also noted the baseline level of distrust that could significantly negatively impact vaccine uptake across the Commonwealth.
Dr. George Garrow, Chief Medical Office of Primary Health Network, located in Sharon, PA, shared how the network’s clinics, which are Federally Qualified Health Centers, have been working to build trust among community members about the safety and necessity of vaccines. He said that the important components of vaccine distribution in rural areas are availability, accessibility and adaptability, that is adapting distribution methods that will accommodate the needs in different communities.
Mr. Steven Johnson, President of UPMC Susquehanna, provided insights on how UPMC Susquehanna facilities first responded to the pandemic, how they are continuing to meet the challenges of the growing incidence rates, along with staff shortages and stress, and how they are vaccinating their hospital staff and nursing home residents.
Dr. Cary Funk, Director of Science and Society Research at Pew Research Center, presented an overview of the center’s survey results on the intent of rural Americans to get a COVID-19 vaccine. This representative national sample showed patterns among rural residents across most regions of the country and could be relevant to rural Pennsylvania. Most notably, rural Americans are closely divided on whether to be vaccinated. She noted that 52 percent of rural respondents said they would definitely or probably get a vaccine, while 47 percent said they would not.
The overarching messages of the panelists were: the need to build trust around the safety and necessity of vaccines; communicating how, where and when residents can get vaccines; and making sure there are sufficient staff and funding to administer and distribute vaccines.
Sen. Yaw said: “We’re hoping that the information presented today will help inform distribution planning, remind our residents to remain vigilant in preventing the spread of this virus, and encourage residents to talk with health care providers about getting the vaccine.”
In addition to Sen. Yaw, Center Board members are: Board Secretary Dr. Nancy Falvo, Clarion University of Pennsylvania; Board Treasurer Stephen Brame, Governor’s representative; Sen. Katie Muth; Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski; Dr. Timothy Kelsey, Pennsylvania State University; Dr. Catherine Koverola, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford; Shannon Munro, Pennsylvania College of Technology; Dr. Joseph Nairn, Northern Pennsylvania Regional College; Dr. Charles Patterson, Mansfield University of Pennsylvania; and Darrin Youker, Governor’s representative.
A recording of the public hearing is available at https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/sfsskwq0rp.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The Center works with the legislature, educators, state and federal executive branch agencies, and national, statewide, regional and local organizations to maximize resources and strategies that can better serve Pennsylvania’s nearly 3.4 million rural residents.
Christine Caldara Piatos, Communications Manager
Center for Rural Pennsylvania