Residents of rural areas concerned for COVID-19 vaccine availability

Updated: Jan. 5, 2021 at 5:49 PM CST
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RED RIVER PARISH, La. (KSLA) - Getting good health care out in rural areas of this country can be enough of a challenge already. Then add a 10-month long pandemic to the mix, and the situation can sometimes turn from bad to worse.

And to fight off the COVID-19 spread at least 107 pharmacies in 51 parishes in Louisiana are receiving those Moderna vaccines this week.

But that leaves 13 parishes without the shots, including Red River Parish, blamed largely on low population density.

That means either drive 30 minutes west to a pharmacy in Mansfield or about 45 minutes north to Shreveport.

During our stop inside the Old Folks Cafe in Coushatta we met Kayla Higgins and DeLinda Haire, as they stopped in for lunch on this Tuesday afternoon.

Higgins explained, “I drive very little anyway. The only factor for me, that’d be a question you’d have to ask my husband.” (laugh)

Haire then finished the thought, adding, “The thing is, we’re so accustomed around here having to go somewhere to get our needs, it’s just, it’s just normal life for us. We know not to think it’s going to be easy in a little rural town so we always prepare to go to Shreveport, Natchitoches, or wherever we have to go.”

People at least 70-years of age are among those who qualify for this new round of Moderna vaccinations.

The cafe’s head cook, Louise Calhoun, says there’s a lot of talk about those vaccinations and can also understand how long drives can pose more of a challenge for people in rural areas like Red River Parish.

“I think so. But, you know, if the people want to take it, I prefer for them to take it if they want to. But I am going to take it for me and my family. And my husband is going to take it too.”

Even when people in Coushatta have better access to the COVID-19 vaccines, you come to the next and perhaps even more pressing issue: And that’s whether they want to take it in the first place.

Haire pulls no punches about the idea of getting a COVID vaccination at this time.

“It’s not for me. I don’t want to take it until I see side effects in a year or so. And I mean, you know, there’s a risk of getting it, started Haire.

“But just be sensible and wash your hands and do what your supposed to do and go on about your business.”

During our visit at Old Folks Cafe we met customers, cooks and cashiers all of whom recognize that long drives are part and parcel of living in a rural area.

That includes Ellen Clark of Coushatta. She too has a wait and see approach at the moment about getting a COVID vaccination.

“I just might eventually do it. But I want to see how it works on other people before I dive off into something, you know.”

Louisiana’s regional medical director for northwest Louisiana, Dr. Martha Whyte, says they are working on an idea to hold drive-thru COVID vaccination efforts at many, if not all, of the 9 parishes in the Region 7 Office of Public Health in the coming days and weeks ahead.

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