Though much media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic has focused on how the novel coronavirus has impacted major cities and urban areas, rural areas have faced their own specific and intense set of challenges in dealing with the pandemic. Lack of resources, supplies, space, staffing, and education has devastated countless rural communities as small hospitals struggle to cope with this unprecedented crisis.

Luckily, there is hope.  Across the world, vaccines are being developed with the potential to save countless lives, providing rescue and relief to struggling rural communities impacted by the coronavirus. However, distributing these vaccines to rural populations who desperately need them will pose a unique public health challenge that requires new innovative new social care solutions.

Coordinated Care System

The Access Gap

According to one eye-opening 2019 study, “nearly 80% of rural America is medically underserved,” leaving residents without access to crucial care.

Furthermore, rural populations are specifically vulnerable to negative Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), stemming from poverty, and detrimental living conditions. Research has proven that people living with conditions associated with poor SDOH, such as diabetes, asthma, and vitamin D deficiencies, are at a greater threat of developing severe or even fatal COVID-19.

Therefore, practical COVID-19 vaccination efforts in rural areas must find a way to ensure that these underserved, at-risk populations receive access to both crucial doses of Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine, spaced at 21-day intervals. Making sure that these populations are protected necessitates public health data reporting and tracking on a never-before-seen scale.

The Challenges of Vaccination

Doses of Pfizer’s recently approved coronavirus vaccine are already beginning to be shipped across the U.S., but storing and distributing this life-saving medicine will be difficult, especially in rural America.

In order for the vaccination to be effective, dosages must be stored at a temperature of -100 degrees Fahrenheit and used within 10 days.  In rural areas where populations are widely distributed, administering all 1,000 doses of shipment within the 10-day window poses massive health administration hurdles.

Care Coordination System

Strategies for Solutions

In the face of such immense challenges, how can rural hospitals ensure that some of our nation’s most vulnerable people are vaccinated against COVID-19? Public health data technology is one promising answer.

New social care technology, such as the C3S.AI software, can offer hospitals lifelines in struggling rural communities. Individual users in the community can download the doctor-designed app, which integrates with a hospital’s Electronic Health Records system. This allows doctors and other frontline healthcare workers to create more streamlined records of who has been vaccinated, who still need to be vaccinated, and who needs the vaccine the most.

With this crucial data, rural communities can develop vaccine distribution plans that prioritize those most in need and can maximize distribution while minimizing wastage of precious doses due to expiration.

The C3S.AI software also allows healthcare workers to communicate directly with patients through the app, so it’s easy to provide people with accurate information and set up pre-scheduled vaccination appointments. This communication is just another way that social care technology can help rural hospitals set up an efficient vaccine distribution plan.

Though the pandemic continues to place rural communities under immense stress, new healthcare data technology coupled with the promise of vaccination could mean light at the end of the tunnel.