HHS secretary: ‘You probably live 5 miles’ from COVID-19 vaccination site

    One of two mobile health clinics Phoebe Putney Health Systems is now using to take COVID-19 vaccines on the road to rural communities and into neighborhoods. Grant Blankenship/GPB

    In March, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp made everyone 16 and up eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. As of Monday, the rest of the country is following suit. The Biden administration says there are now enough vaccines to go around.

    Despite Georgia’s early start in opening the vaccine to those 16 and up, the state continues to rank near the bottom for the number of residents who are vaccinated.

    Hesitancy could be an issue in the state, as a poll published April 9 from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds many white, rural evangelicals remain hesitant to get the vaccine.

    Fewer rural residents compared to urban and suburban residents say they are planning or considering getting vaccinated.

    “Three in 10 rural residents say they will either ‘definitely not’ get vaccinated or will only do so if required, and few unvaccinated rural residents (11%) say they have tried to get an appointment,” the poll shows.

    Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Monday that access to the vaccine should not be an issue even in more rural parts of the state.

    “So as of today, we could tell you with a great deal of pride that you probably live closer than 5 miles from a vaccine center that you can use,” he said. “And so we want everyone to know that the vaccine is accessible to you.”

    Becerra said more than 131 million Americans already received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and President Joe Biden wants as many people as possible fully vaccinated by Independence Day.

    “The president has made it his goal to ensure that everyone has access to the vaccine,” Becerra said. “So, regardless of where you live, if you’re in rural America, if you’re at an inner city part of America that doesn’t have access to all the resources that other communities do, the president wants to make sure that you have access to a vaccine.”

    The federal government is working with governors and with local leaders to make sure they can make the vaccine available through their state and local efforts, Becerra said.

    An example of this is Preston, Ga., which is about 40 miles away from major medical centers in Columbus or Albany.

    In this part of southwest Georgia, there are whole counties without any of the chain pharmacies the state is relying on as partners for COVID-19 vaccinations. Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital aimed to bridge that gap through use of its two mobile vaccine clinics.

    That’s where Robert Holt and his son Robert Holt Jr. received their vaccinations.

    Holt told Georgia Public Broadcasting that he wasn’t even looking for a vaccine appointment.

    “My wife called me and said, ‘Hey, they have a mobile unit down by Adams’. Get Robert Jr. and you guys go get it,’ and I was like, ‘Yes, ma’am,’” Holt said. Adams’ Grocery is the grocery store next to the parking lot.

    The HHS secretary this morning emphasized the vaccines are safe, effective and free.

    “Coronavirus is not fake, coronavirus is not fiction; it is real,” Becerra said. “More than 500,000 Americans have died. There’s no reason why your child, your parent should be one of those victims. So let’s get vaccinated.”

    This story appears in the Georgia Recorder through a news partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting.

    Ellen Eldridge
    Ellen Eldridge is a health care reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting. She has previously worked as a breaking news reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The topics she most often writes about are mental and other health care issues, as well as public policy and safety.