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Rural PA Doctor Says They’ll Need More Staff, Money And Trust To Administer Vaccines

Kirsty Wigglesworth

Dr. George Garrow with Primary Health Network says trust will be critical for the acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“I’ve been meeting with farmers, faith leaders and all sorts of organizations and civic groups to try to convince them that the COVID vaccine is safe and effective,” he recently told the board of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a legislative agency in Harrisburg.

Garrow, the chief medical officer for Primary Health, which has locations throughout western and central Pennsylvania, said he was the first of his staff to receive the vaccine. He recorded the shot and showed his staff.

According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, rural residents are among the most vaccine hesitant groups. A report on U.S. residents’ willingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19 states that “Individuals living in rural areas in the U.S. are significantly less likely to say they will get a COVID-19 vaccine that is deemed safe and available for free than individuals living in suburban and urban America.” 

Garrow said small clinics in rural parts of the state have had to close when staff got infected. He told the board of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania that clinics will need more staff and funding to administer the vaccine in the coming months. Primary Health Network has purchased a mobile unit to bring vaccines to communities in isolated areas.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine told the board that distrust of the vaccines in rural areas could significantly impact the effectiveness of the rollout.

While she doesn’t know when phase two of vaccinations will begin for the general public, when it does most residents will receive vaccines through hospitals. She said rural areas are receiving the Moderna vaccine because it is easier to store and transport. The Pfizer vaccine must be kept at an ultra-low temperature while the Moderna vaccine can be stored in any freezer.

Levine said that Operation Warp Speed gives the state a weekly estimate of how many vaccines it will receive. But she cautioned that the number of vaccines the state will reportedly receive never matches what it has on hand because of delivery and transportation time.  

Steven Johnson, President of UPMC Susquehanna, said staffing is not currently an issue, but funding will be. He told the board that he would calculate an estimated cost of distribution and provide  it to the board.