Ag Policy Blog

Amid Spike in Cases, White House Seeks to Boost Rural COVID-19 Vaccination Rates

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Biden administration will spend $100 million to boost COVID-19 vaccine outreach efforts in rural areas, especially in states with vaccination rates below the national average. A driver goes through a COVID vaccination in Texas earlier this year (DTN photo by Elaine Thomas)

The Biden administration is providing more resources to increase vaccination rates in rural America as leaders on the White House COVID-19 Response Team on Thursday warned that the country is a "pivotal moment" battling the pandemic with cases and hospitalizations again rising.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control reported 46,318 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, and the seven-day average is around 37,700 acres. That represents a 53% increase in cases from the seven-day average week earlier. Hospitalizations are up 32% and deaths are also up 19% from a week earlier as well.

Currently about 162 million people are fully vaccinated, including 80% of people age 65 and older. That has changed the course of the pandemic, but the threat is growing for those who are unvaccinated. Officials highlighted that unvaccinated people account for 97% of COVID hospitalizations and deaths in the country right now.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, warned that the rise in cases is troubling, "and it's another reminder that we're not out the woods yet," she said. Walensky urged people who are not vaccinated to do so.

"We are yet at another pivotal moment in this pandemic with cases rising again and some hospitals reaching their capacity in some areas," Walensky said. "We need to come together as one nation, unified in our resolve to protect the health of ourselves, our children, our community, our country, and our future with the tools we have available."

On the Delta variant of COVID, Walensky warned that it is "spreading with incredible efficiency" and Delta cases now make up 83% of the virus circulating around the country. The Delta variant is considered more aggressive and transmissible than the earlier strains, she said. "It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career," she said.

Walensky, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, each urged people who are unvaccinated to talk to their doctors about COVID vaccines.

Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said new cases are concentrating in areas with low vaccination rates. Three states -- Florida, Missouri and Texas -- account for 40% of all cases nationwide. Florida alone right now accounts for 20% of all cases nationally. And the virus in those states is mainly impacting unvaccinated people. On a positive note, Zients also pointed out those states with the lower vaccination rates and higher case are now seeing their vaccination rates grow faster than the national average. "People in these states are feeling the impact of being unvaccinated and responding with action," he said.

Fauci pointed out that being vaccinated does not mean people cannot contract the virus, but the vaccines greatly reduce the risk of severe cases. While the country is seeing cases among those who are vaccinated, these cases are generally mild, oftentimes asymptomatic. Fauci said.

"So what we're talking about when we talk about infection after vaccination, which is clearly being discussed now in the context of the Delta variant -- by no means does that mean that you're dealing with an unsuccessful vaccine. The success of the vaccine is based on the prevention of illness," Fauci said.

Adding further resources out there, Zients said the government would be providing more resources to increase vaccination rates, "particularly in rural communities." The White House is releasing $100 million for nearly 2,000 rural health clinics to increase vaccine education and outreach efforts, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.

Last week, the administration announced $400 million for 1,540 small rural hospitals for COVID-19 to increase testing capacity in rural America as well.

Walensky stressed that people who are unvaccinated need to continue wearing masks right now. CDC recommendations have not changed on those issues. "If you are vaccinated, you get exceptional protection from the vaccines," she said.

The FDA continues to work on vaccine approval for children. A vaccine could be approved as early as next month for children under 12, but clinical trials continue to focus on tiering down the age level for approval from 12 to 9 years old, then down to 6 years of age, down to 2 years, then down to infants, Fauci said.

Officials in states such as Missouri are also increasingly urging residents to get vaccinated. The Kansas City Star reported Thursday that hospitals in the community are "at a tipping point" in which they are turning down or transferring patients to other hospitals as the number of patients with COVID is reaching levels not seen since January. Counties that make up the Kansas City metro were down to roughly 55 combined confirmed cases a day in mid-June, but now back up to closer to 400 new cases a day. https://www.kansascity.com/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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