I spend quite a bit of time on this blog discussing the challenges of delivering health care, and in particular, elder care, in rural regions of America. But I want to highlight a recent success story: West Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination system.
West Virginia, one of the country’s poorest states and ravaged by the opioid epidemic, seems an unlikely source when it comes to innovations in health care. As of this week, 11 percent of West Virginia’s population has received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In comparison, wealthier states such as Massachusetts and California have only vaccinated 7 percent of their populations. Of course population size has an impact, but considering the bumpy rollout of the vaccine nationally, it’s a fairly impressive feat.
What is the key to West Virginia’s success? Simplicity. The state has opted to manage their vaccine program closely at the state level, instead of delegating the entire complex process to county or city governments like many other states. Vaccine supply is distributed to five hospitals in different areas of the state, which then distribute it to local agencies and medical centers familiar with administering other vaccination programs such as the flu vaccine. They’ve also leaned on the state’s National Guard forces for their logistical expertise.
The centralized approach avoids some of the complications that can arise even with well-meaning collaborations from outside agencies. For example, West Virginia was the only state to opt out of a federal partnership with pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS that assisted states in getting nursing home residents and workers vaccinated. West Virginia instead utilized the local pharmacies throughout their state and were able to complete the process before many states had even began, according to The Washington Post.
West Virginia isn’t the only success story. Rural communities in other states also have shared their vaccination success stories, many using old school tools like the phone and word of mouth to reach out to residents directly. There is often a collaborative effort in small towns, where everyone from the public health officials to firefighters and librarians willing to jump in and do their part, Reuters reported.
The vaccination effort is leading to a decline in nursing home coronavirus cases, according to health officials.
It’s a good thing these rural communities have found a way to get a jump start on vaccinating their residents, as the lack of medical care resources means those who develop coronavirus may not get the specialized treatment they need in time or have to be moved far out of the area. There is also an increasing worry that issues with vaccination supply may mean rural areas have to wait longer for additional supplies, while urban and suburban areas catch up.