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Rural hospitals face challenges in distributing COVID-19 vaccine

A package of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines stored at the Cape Fear Valley Bladen County...
A package of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines stored at the Cape Fear Valley Bladen County Hospital in Bladen County, N.C. on Wednesday, Dec. 16.(WECT)
Updated: Dec. 16, 2020 at 7:35 PM CST
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - The staggering task of inoculating an entire country against the novel coronavirus can pose some of the biggest challenges out in rural areas.

That’s typically where, overall, there are far fewer resources to reach an underserved population of people just wanting the same protections provided for those living in urban areas.

In rural healthcare, just getting the proper amount of vaccines can be the first challenge.

At North Caddo Medical Center in Vivian, healthcare workers are preparing to receive the vaccination to fight the COVID-19 virus.

Dr. Chris Brussow, a Rural Family Medicine Resident at North Caddo Medical Center says the vaccine can’t come soon enough.

“We’ve seen a lot of patients that have been very, very sick and ill. And a lot of people have unfortunately gone on to die of this COVID-19 disease,” said Brussow.

The NCMC just received 50 doses of the Pfizer shot this week, with the expectation of getting more doses of the vaccine next week.

As if it’s not challenging enough to get out the Pfizer vaccine, across the country and in rural areas like north Caddo Parish, this medical center in Vivian does not have an intensive care unit, or ICU.

David Jones, the center’s CEO, explained how that presented some big challenges this spring and could pose challenges again.

“So when COVID first hit, and the amount of patients that needed to go to intensive care, you know, we had to figure out a way to treat them here before we could send them somewhere else, because the number of intensive care beds in Shreveport-Bossier were pretty much full within the first month or two.”

Jones says their nightmare scenario could be COVID-19 sweeping through a nursing home in Vivian, just like it began to do back in the spring. He says that would create a surge in patients all at once.

In fact, Jones says there’s no shortage of challenges they face at the moment.

“You know, sometimes it’s an out of sight out of mind experience with rural health care. They think about the larger facilities, the Willis Knighton’s, the Ochsner’s. You know, and us getting in line and being able to get the proper amount of vaccines was a big hurdle that we had to overcome,” said Jones.

Having to keep those Pfizer vaccine doses at ultra old temperatures, reaching minus 94-degrees fahrenheit, presents its own set of challenges at rural health care systems like this one, according to Jones.

“We don’t have the cold storage units here. We don’t have a big plasma freezer or something like that. And that’s what the bigger facilities use to keep it, you know, below zero.”

Pfizer delivers the vaccine doses in temporary freezer units. That allows smaller facilities the time to administer the vaccine beginning with their frontline health care workers.

With an overall staff of 375 employees at the North Caddo Medical Center, Jones explains that 275 of them are considered frontline in the fight against the coronavirus, with the promise of another Pfizer delivery next week.

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