WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today sought details of how federal agencies plan to ensure the availability and distribution of an anticipated COVID-19 vaccine to rural and underserved communities.
Hyde-Smith raised rural healthcare issues Wednesday during a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing titled, “Department of Health and Human Services’ Coronavirus Response: A Review of Efforts To Date and Next Steps.”
“Access to healthcare is always more challenging in rural America and particularly as we see the pandemic spread extensively in smaller communities,” Hyde-Smith said. “The testimony we received today gave us the sound reasoning behind asking states to prepare now for a COVID vaccine and steps being taken to get vaccines to rural America. The success of this effort will be especially critical to rural states like Mississippi.”
Federal agencies advised states to prepare for the possibility of an approved coronavirus vaccine being available for distribution this November. Early preparation would help states avoid problems exposed with the distribution of an H1N1 vaccine in 2009.
Witnesses from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Hyde-Smith of multiple agency actions to address the needs of rural and underserved communities during the pandemic. They cited greater reliance on the 221 federally qualified health center sites in Mississippi, support for Critical Access Hospitals, as well as using the National Emergency Telecritical Care Network to advance telemedicine services.
CDC Director, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, M.D., cited partnership with national rural health organizations to use the annual flu vaccine distribution as a model to improve the acceptance of vaccination in general and to prepare for a COVID-19 vaccine later this year.
Redfield also endorsed the $6.0 billion appropriation in the Senate Republican’s targeted response legislation blocked by Democrats last week. This funding would support activities to plan, prepare for, promote, and administer coronavirus vaccines for broad-based distribution.
Hyde-Smith commended those efforts and pledged to continue to prioritize rural healthcare needs as the coronavirus transforms the delivery of care for rural America.
“Throughout this pandemic, I have worked to ensure rural America receives the resources and flexibilities needed for an effective response,” Hyde-Smith said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to ensure adequate resources are set aside specifically for helping our rural providers treat coronavirus victims, and I will continue to do that as we work to get on the other side of this emergency.”