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Harvest Public Media reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues through a collaborative network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest and Plains.

Ag, Health and Business Groups Team Up To Improve Rural Vaccination Rates

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CVS Health Newsroom
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July 1 is the date that President Joe Biden wants the country to be 70% vaccinated, and rural areas are far behind urban centers in progress toward that goal.

In Oklahoma, just 28 percent of the rural population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That's seven percentage points lower than the state's urban population.

Agriculture, business and health care groups addressed the topic of improving rural vaccination rates during a virtual National Rural Business Summit earlier this month to share ideas and strategies to change that.

“We know there are challenges with reaching rural communities based on CDC analysis and Kaiser Family Foundation studies,” said Dr. Bechara Choucair, White House COVID Response Team vaccinations coordinator.

The message of the summit was to change the way people and groups are talking about the vaccine.

“Instead of talking about vaccine hesitancy, we need to be talking about vaccine confidence,” said Dirk Kempthorne, former Governor and Senator from Idaho and the chair of the COVID Collaborative. “We need to shift the focus.”

The consortium of groups working on the effort also includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, Center for Rural Strategies, Rural America Chamber of Commerce, National League of Cities, and the National Rural Health Association.

They have developed a set of online tools to help people and organizations better reach rural residents. That includes agriculture groups appealing to farmers and the knowledge they already have.

“We all understand as farmers and ranchers that herd immunity really works,” said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall. “We’re not scared to take a new vaccine to our herds across the country because we know the science is behind it.”

The group also believes business leaders with a strong presence in rural areas can also be hugely influential.

“It falls upon us as business leaders to talk to our employees,” said National Rural Health Association CEO Alan Morgan. “We need to ask them, ‘Have you gotten vaccinated? Do you have transportation to get vaccinated? And can I give you a couple hours off, so you can get that and keep our business safe?’”

All the groups underline that vaccination needs to be a choice, not a mandate. But they are also hoping better information and communication strategies will help people decide to get vaccinated.

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