Bridging the Great Health Divide: Distributing vaccines to rural Mississippians

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 4:47 PM CDT
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VICKSBURG, Miss. (WLBT) - COVID-19 cases are increasing at an alarming rate again, and rural Mississippi could be hardest hit by the outbreak.

Shandra Badon is now vaccinated. She got the shot this week after learning about its benefits.

“I was very hesitant, but after I guess knowing it was another strain out and the importance of being vaccinated, I decided to come in and get vaccinated,” said Jackson Resident Shandra Badon.

Many residents in Mississippi have not been vaccinated.

Health professionals say while some people just chose not to get vaccinated for personal reasons, many people in rural areas face a different set of challenges: Their zip code and lack of resources.

“What happens is rural areas don’t receive all the information, and they might not have access to all the gadgets that we have. Sometimes all they have is a cell phone,” Dr. Nelson Atehortua said

Dr. Nelson Atehortua is the Assistant Professor of Public Health at Jackson State University.

He says although the communities in the Delta have such a great need, they have been negatively impacted since the start of the pandemic

“We have a lot of people dying and going to hospital for weeks sometimes and months because they were not prepared,” said Atehortua.

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs agrees. According to the U.S. Census, 30.7 percent of Vicksburg Residents meet the Census Bureau’s definition of poverty, and 15 percent of the people living there do not have health insurance.

“Ironically, that’s the same area that has low vaccination rates, low poverty areas and need the healthcare the most,” said Mayor Flaggs.

The mayor says that’s not okay.

“You cannot be a successful state, meaning Mississippi, if you are overlooking the most vulnerable population in your state,” said Mayor George Flaggs.

The city of Vicksburg, Jackson State University, and Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center have now teamed up and secured a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. The new grant is a two-year initiative designed to advance health literacy and enhance equitable community responses to COVID-19. The three teams will implement an intervention program specifically targeting Vicksburg’s diverse community and the rural populations that are most vulnerable to poor health outcomes and chronic diseases.

“I am excited as mayor of this city to be on the forefront and help the most vulnerable people to meet a new quality of life with health care,” Flaggs said.

Health officials with Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center are also ready to shift into a new gear to help Vicksburg tackle the vaccine gap. In fact, they have been active in sponsoring free COVID vaccination events in Mississippi.

“We wanted to get out there and try to do as much as we can to alleviate COVID from being much, much out there,” Director of Nursing Glendora Singleton said.

But getting rural areas to accept and not reject COVID-19 vaccination will be a challenge. She says that’s where more health education comes in. Right now, the state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

“When the pandemic started, we were doing at least 200-300 people a day to get a vaccine. Currently, we are facing an issue where everybody has a lack of interest in getting a vaccine. So, we feel we need to go into every area in Jackson or any areas we are invited, and make sure encourage and educate people on the importance on getting the vaccine. We feel that the vaccines are effective, they are basically safe and that is our mission,” said Singleton.

A Mission Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs says must be completed to bridge the health disparity gap in the rural region that is so many times forgotten about.

“I hope that we close the gap disparity of healthcare and the delivery of health care. We also need make it aware that we need to make healthcare more affordable. When we do these things all of us can be healthy in this state and not a few of us,” said Flaggs.

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