COVID vaccine in hands of caregiver

The National Rural Health Association is calling on home healthcare agencies to help it mitigate COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in rural America. 

Alan Morgan, NRHA

The NRHA launched its Rural Vaccine Confidence Initiative last week, which includes a toolkit containing educational material and messaging that can be tailored for individual communities.

NRHA President Alan Morgan told McKnight’s Home Care Daily the free customized tool is geared towards providers and businesses that have influence with community members who haven’t yet gotten the shots. He said home healthcare agencies are perfectly suited for the campaign.

“It would be so easy for them to use it and use their own brand and their own people to run with it … We just want to get people vaccinated,” Morgan said.

Rural America has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The latest New York Times COVID-19 map shows infection rates rising in a number of states including West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Wyoming, Oregon and Alaska, where vaccination rates lag the national average. Although those states are all predominantly rural, their populations aren’t identical. Morgan believes that is part of the reason many vaccination campaigns have failed in rural America.

“The communities that are most hard hit in a rural context are Southeastern African American communities and Southwestern Latin American communities, Native American  populations and Native Alaskans,” Morgan explained. “We want to make sure we are reflective of what is actually happening in the rural context. We don’t want to throw up a picture of an old white guy leaning up against a tractor with a mask on. It just doesn’t resonate.”

Morgan said another problem in rural communities is a dearth of primary care physicians and nurse practitioners who can educate patients on the importance of the vaccine. In the absence of those trusted voices, the initiative hopes to recruit other trusted members of the community, such as home healthcare providers, who can convince people to get the shots.

“They have faith and trust in their local communities and so we are getting to why you should get vaccinated. Putting trust in your community and having that civic pride, you want to get vaccinated to keep the local businesses open, to keep your healthcare professionals safe and keep your children safe in your community,” Morgan said.

The toolkit can be accessed on the NRHA website.