Rural Missouri communities continue to combat COVID-19 vaccination barriers

Ozarks Healthcare to offer mobile vaccine clinics to businesses
(Wilfredo Lee | AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Published: Apr. 12, 2021 at 10:30 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 14, 2021 at 6:26 AM CDT
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HOWELL, Mo. (KY3) - A few rural parts of the Ozarks have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, but those numbers are slowly rising.

Since vaccines first rolled out across the state, some rural Missouri counties have continuously worked to overcome certain vaccine barriers. Regardless, it has been a priority for health providers all across the state -- getting as many shots into as many arms as possible.

“We’re trying to provide at least a clinic every week if not two a week,” Chris Gilliam with the Howell County Health Department said on Monday.

It has not been an easy task. Some of the initial barriers many rural counties experienced were supply shortages.

“Local public health receive 7-percent of the state’s total allocation,” Gilliam said. “So needless to say, with 115 county health departments in the state, our allocation is not that significant.”

Health leaders in Texas County say that is not so much of an issue anymore. In fact, they say a more recent issues is a slightly decreased demand.

But other parts of the state, like Howell County, say it still causes a few road bumps here and there.

“I do see that those things are changing, and we do anticipate that flow to improve,” Gilliam said. “But at this point it has been a bit of a challenge in terms of the pace at which vaccines have come to us.”

For other rural spots across the state, simply signing up for a shot can be tough.

“Because of us being rural, a lot of people in our area don’t have internet, or have good connections,” Rhonda Suter with Ozark County Health Department said. “And it’s hard for that process of going through to register.”

State registration on the Missouri Vaccine Navigator portal is done virtually, which makes it hard on people without internet. Suter said her health department has helped several people over the phone figure out how to register correctly.

Other issues include lack of space.

“We don’t have a lot of large areas where they can come inside, so we’ve been doing several drive thru clinics at one of the local churches here in town. So that’s worked for us,” Suter said.

Healthcare providers have even tried to make it as simple as bringing vaccines to the people.

“We know it’s hard for people to get off work to come to our vaccination clinics,” said Katie Mahan, Director of Ozarks Healthcare’s Pharmacy. “We realize that. So that’s why we’d like to make it more convenient for them and actually come to them so they don’t have to take time off work to be vaccinated.”

Ozarks Healthcare is now offering mobile clinics, traveling to businesses. And like many places here in Missouri and across the country, vaccine trust is another obstacle.

“I think there is still a number of people that feel COVID is a hoax and they feel like the vaccine has an alternative or ulterior motive,” Gilliam said. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there. So one of the responsibilities and charges we’ve taken on in Howell County is we are implementing a bit of a push encouraging people to get vaccinated to get to know the facts, make the right decisions for your community as well as for yourself. "

So making sure the facts are all squared away is a huge priority for health departments like Howell County.

And now that every Missourian 18-years-old and up is eligible, some hesitance may still exist, but several rural communities feel strongly their rates will continue to go up.

Ozarks Healthcare says it can bring its mobile clinic to businesses with at least 40 employees. It will travel to Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Texas, Wright and Shannon Counties.

Businesses interested in hosting a mobile vaccination clinic should first make sure all employees and family members who would like a vaccine are registered through the Missouri Navigator. Ozarks Healthcare says businesses may then contact the Ozarks Healthcare Pharmacy to inquire about available dates for mobile clinics by calling 417-256-1793.

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