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Vaccine access still an issue for rural areas in the CSRA

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 7:49 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It’s not just vaccine hesitancy that could be blamed for lower vaccination rates. You’ve probably heard if they haven’t gotten the vaccine by now they never will, but one local doctor says that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

For around five months now, the vaccine has been available to everyone but still, access is not one in the same. One doctor says because of that they’re seeing rural patients end up in Augusta hospital beds.

For some deciding to get the shot is only half the battle, the other half is opportunity.

“It’s really now going to be boots on the ground, and getting out to those rural community because that’s now what’s coming in,” said Dr. Jose Vazquez, AU Health infectious disease expert.

AU Health has 97 COVID patients. Around half of them are transfers from rural counties.

“We’re all busting at the seams, we’re all full. We’re all at surge almost capacity I’m surprised we haven’t shut down,” said Vazquez.

Vazquez says that’s because vaccine access in rural areas is lacking.

“In most of the rural counties don’t have a Walmart or Walgreens nor a CVS,” said Rev. Christopher Johnson, Greater Augusta Interfaith Coalition director.

Right now at least four rural counties in the CSRA have less than 29 percent of the population fully vaccinated. The Greater Augusta Interfaith Coalition has traveled to 11 different counties since May educating and vaccinating.

“You have places like down in Jenkins County where they’re told that you know, Friday and Saturday, vaccines are not available. The only day available is Monday through Thursday. And then only available for four hours then,” said Johnson.

AU has been trying to serve rural patients with telemedicine, but when the smaller hospitals get overwhelmed they’re sent here.

Greater Augusta Interfaith Coalition has a big educate to vaccinate event planned for this Friday at the CSRA Business League. The William (Bill) Fennoy - Volunteer for Progress Barbeque will be held Aug. 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 821 12th St. in Augusta. For more information on the event, visit their Facebook page Greater Augusta Interfaith Coalition.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced last week he plans to add additional staffing resources to Georgia hospitals that are full. The plan is to bring in 170 new staff members directly to rural hospitals and 450 beds for regional hospitals.

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