President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday announced $2.4 million in federal aid to be split among 50 rural health clinics in Alabama to fight COVID-19 misinformation.
“Rural health clinics play a crucial role in supporting our national vaccination effort to defeat COVID-19,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement. “This funding will give trusted messengers in rural communities the tools they need to counsel patients on how COVID-19 vaccines can help protect them and their loved ones.”
Alabama lags behind every other state in the percentage of fully vaccinated eligible residents, at 39.7 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Alabama’s lagging vaccination rate is driving a spike in cases and hospitalizations statewide, public health experts say. The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations reached 646 on Thursday, a 216 percent increase from July 1, and the seven-day average of new cases per day rose by 216 percent over the last two weeks, from 255 cases per day to 807 by July 19.
“The Alabama Department of Public Health is pleased to learn of this funding stream for Alabama’s rural health clinics (RHCs),” said Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris in a statement to APR. “The RHCs in our state play a tremendous role in caring for Alabama’s rural residents, including those with low incomes. RHCs are a vital partner in helping to spread the message on the importance of vaccinating our state against COVID-19.”
The funds, made available by the American Rescue Plan, are to be used to combat misinformation by developing and implementing vaccine confidence and outreach efforts, according to an HHS press release. Those funds are to be administered by the Health Resource and Services Administration through the Rural Health Clinic Vaccine Confidence Program.
Those 50 clinics are to use the funds to communicate to the public how and where to get vaccinated locally, and to coordinate with vaccine sites and public health partners to determine how to boost vaccine confidence, according to the release.
The funds will also be used to “improve health literacy, focusing on vaccine safety and the benefits of broad vaccination for rural communities.” Each of the 50 clinics is to receive approximately $49,500
“Rural Health Clinics are critical partners in addressing health equity gaps, including those related to vaccination,” said Health Resources and Services Administration acting administrator Diana Espinosa in a statement. “This funding will help Rural Health Clinics address the barriers people in their communities face to getting vaccinated and build confidence in vaccines through trusted resources for health care services and health information.”