Biden administration shifts COVID-19 vaccine response to rural areas with $1 billion in new funding
May 10-16, 2021
As President Joe Biden looks to get the COVID-19 vaccine to more than 160 million Americans by the Fourth of July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on May 4 announced the availability of nearly $1 billion to strengthen the administration’s vaccine response efforts in rural communities.
According to the White House, over 150 million of the estimated 331 million people residing in the U.S. have received at least one COVID-19 shot. Of that total, 70% of the nation’s elderly population have been fully vaccinated. Beginning new week, Biden said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will begin shipping new allocations of vaccine to rural health clinics to reach Americans who don’t live near one of the current 75,000 vaccination sites.
“There are tens of thousands of Americans alive today because — who would not be alive otherwise were they not — had access to rapid vaccination program. Moms and dads, sisters and brothers, grandparents, neighbors, old friends — they’re around now, and God — thank God for that,” said Biden during a White House press briefing on May 4.
“Also, as we wind down the large mass vaccination sites, we will move towards smaller locations even more convenient to the unvaccinated. So, for those who don’t want to drive the distance to a large vaccination site, we will have sites — smaller sites — closer to the unvaccinated,” said the president.
Through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a part of HHS, the Biden administration will expand testing and other COVID-19 prevention services to rural with over more than $1 billion in funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, which was signed into law on March 11. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said HHS, which includes HRSA, the U.S. Center for Disease and Control (CDC), the federal Food and Drug administration, and eight other federal agencies and division, will work to increase vaccine confidence by empowering trusted local voices with additional funding for outreach efforts in underserved communities.
“Rural health providers are vital to ensure equity in COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and in making sure rural residents have the information about vaccine safety, especially for populations who are at an increased risk for COVID-19 infection or severe illness due to systemic health and social inequities and geographic isolation,” said Becerra. “Support to Rural Health Clinics and small rural hospitals for COVID-19 testing, strengthening vaccine allocation and confidence, and vaccine outreach will help rural residents make informed health decisions about COVID-19 to protect themselves and their communities.”
Of the new funding, HRSA’s Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Testing and Mitigation Program will provide $460 million to more than 4,600 rural health clinics (RHCs) across the country. RHCs will use the funds to maintain and increase COVID-19 testing, expand access to testing for rural residents, and broaden efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus in ways tailored to their local communities. RHCs are a special certification given to health care practices in underserved rural areas by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to help ensure access to care for rural residents. HRSA will provide up to $100,000 per RHC-certified clinic site and will issue the funds this summer.
To further support COVID-19 testing in rural areas, HRSA will also provide $398 million to existing grantees of the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program (SHIP) to work with approximately 1,730 small rural hospitals – those with fewer than 50 beds – and Critical Access Hospitals on COVID-19 testing and mitigation. SHIP state grantees will use the funding to support all eligible rural hospitals, up to $230,000 per hospital, and will issue the funds later in the year.
“Addressing the health care challenges rural areas face requires a targeted approach that’s tailored to the needs of local communities,” said HRSA Acting Administrator Diana Espinosa. “This critical funding strengthens our ability to deliver on President Biden’s commitment to ensure that the nation’s underserved communities and those who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 get the help they need.”
HRSA will also support RHCs to increase the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in rural communities and expand outreach to build vaccine confidence. Working in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HRSA is inviting Medicare-certified RHCs to join the new Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution (RHCVD) Program to directly receive vaccines from the Biden Administration. HRSA and CDC will continue to enroll interested RHCs to receive COVID-19 vaccines, the allocation for which is separate from jurisdictions’ weekly allocations.
In addition, through the Rural Health Clinic Vaccine Confidence (RHCVC) Program, HRSA will make nearly $100 million available in grants to eligible RHCs nationwide to address health equity gaps by offering support and resources to medically underserved rural communities where COVID-19 vaccine uptake lags in comparison to more populated areas. For more information about HRSA’s rural programs, visit the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy website: https://www.hrsa.gov/rural-health/index.html
Separately, the HRSA also announced the availability of nearly $250 million to develop and support a community-based workforce who will serve as trusted voices sharing information about vaccines, increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence, and address any barriers to vaccination for individuals living in vulnerable and medically underserved communities.
This funding will help community-based organizations to hire and mobilize community outreach workers, community health workers, social support specialists and others to conduct on-the-ground outreach to educate and assist individuals in getting the information they need about vaccination, help make vaccine appointments, and assist with transportation and other needs to get to individuals to each of their vaccination appointments.
“Increasing public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and boosting uptake remains a critical part of our fight against this virus,” said Becerra.
The first of two funding opportunities will be awarded to approximately 10 recipients to engage with multiple organizations regionally and locally, including with community-based organizations, health centers, minority-serving institutions, and other health and social service entities. The second funding opportunity will be released soon and will focus on smaller community-based organizations.
To apply for the Community-Based Workforce for COVID-19 Vaccine Outreach Program Notice of Funding Opportunity, visit Grants.gov. Applications are due May 18, 2021, at
11:59 p.m. ET. Applicants should contact CBOVaccineOutreach@hrsa.gov with any questions.
PHOTO CAPTION: (Photo by NIH)
President Joe Biden visited the National Institute of Health on Feb. 11, 2011, where he met with leading researchers at the Vaccine Research Center to learn more about the groundbreaking fundamental research that enabled the development of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines.