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The Biden administration will increase resources allocated to rural communities in an effort to get more Americans vaccinated by July 4, the White House announced Tuesday (May 4, 2021).

The announcement says the Biden administration is raising the goal for vaccinations to get at least one shot into the arms of 70 percent of American adults, and for 160 million U.S. adults to be fully vaccinated, by July 4. 

The announcement says the initiative will give particular attention to rural communities by providing more access to vaccines and increased outreach efforts to rural Americans.

As of May 1, approximately 95 million Americans, or 45% of the 18 and older population, were fully vaccinated, according to a Daily Yonder analysis of data from Covid Act Now. The urban rate of complete vaccination is 3.7 points higher than the rural rate (26% vs. 29.7% of total population), the analysis showed.

To raise the rural vaccination rate, the administration will send vaccines directly to rural health clinics in underserved communities and provide $100 million in American Rescue Plan funding for 4,600 rural health clinics to use for vaccine outreach in rural communities.

Additionally, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will provide rural health clinics and rural hospitals with $860 million to broaden Covid-19 mitigation efforts. The funding amounts to about $100,000 for each of the rural health clinics and $230,000 for each of the 1,730 rural hospitals.

Biden administration’s plan would also incorporate tens of thousands of pharmacies in the federal pharmacy program into the effort by directing them to offer walk-in appointments, while redirecting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support more pop-up clinics, smaller community vaccination sites, and more mobile clinics.

Those FEMA responses would be based on what the community needs, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in an interview with the Daily Yonder.

“What FEMA has tried to do is target these vaccines to where they are needed the most,” Murthy said.

Murthy said FEMA would work in partnership with local leaders to address the needs as identified by communities. The goal is to make getting vaccines more convenient and accessible, he said.

The efforts will focus on the hardest-to-reach individuals, Murthy said. Whether that means offering the shots in a church parking lot, delivering the vaccines to homebound seniors, or other measures is up to individual communities, Murthy said.

The president announced nearly $250 million in two funding opportunities for community-based organizations to ramp up personal outreach by hiring community outreach workers, community health workers, social-support specialists, and others.

“These workers will build confidence by answering individual questions about vaccination, help make vaccine appointments, and assist with transportation, child care arrangements or other needs to get individuals to their vaccination appointments,” according to White House announcement.

The first of the funding opportunities launched Tuesday, May 4. (Information on the application process is available on grants.gov.) The second round of funding, which will focus on smaller community-based organizations, will begin in mid-May.

The president also announced more than $130 million to improve vaccine education and information and reduce health disparities in underserved communities. This funding, the fact sheet said, will support organizations with a history of supporting rural communities, racial and ethnic minorities, and those with disabilities. The funding will go toward educational materials and toolkits about the vaccine, identifying barriers to vaccine uptake, improving vaccination availability, and getting trusted figures to encourage residents to get vaccinated.

The administration isn’t targeting individual primary-care physicians yet, Murthy said. While many primary care physicians work in rural hospitals and rural health clinics, small general practitioners offices will not be administering vaccines as much as distributing information, he said.

“Primary-care physicians are some of the most trusted sources of information in rural communities,” he said. “And ultimately, what want them to do is not only vaccinate their patients, but talk about the vaccine to their patients and talk to any questions or concerns they may have.”

Murthy pushed back on a New York Times article that said the U.S. is unlikely to reach herd immunity.

“What we should be focusing on is reducing the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths due to Covid-19, not some amorphous number,” Murthy said. “The more vaccinations people get, the fewer infections, hospitalizations and deaths we’ll have. So our goal should be to get as many people vaccinated as we can.”