Partnerships Key to COVID-19 Vaccinations in Rural and Frontier Central Idaho
Public Health District Recognized Need to Overcome Vaccine Access and Trust Challenges
Central District Health (CDH), one of Idaho’s seven public health districts serving the rural and frontier counties of Boise, Elmore, and Valley, recognized the need to earn the community’s trust and bring the COVID-19 vaccines to residents.
To access medical care, residents in these rural and frontier Idaho counties must travel through mountainous terrain. Frontier areas are sparsely populated remote areas far from grocery stores, schools, and healthcare services.
While several healthcare providers in Elmore and Valley Counties have been administering COVID-19 vaccines, Boise County has only one medical provider to care for its 7,800 residents. In addition to access challenges, many residents lack confidence in COVID-19 vaccines due to mistrust in government services.
To get shots into arms, CDH’s key strategy was working with trusted community organizations to gain access to and acceptance from residents.
Partnerships in Preparation for COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout
CDH held weekly phone calls with business leaders, schools, city councils, county staff, and other influential community members to understand their ongoing COVID-19 challenges and discuss how to address them. This process strengthened their relationship with partners in preparation for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
We laid the groundwork to strengthen community partnerships long before the vaccines were available. During our weekly calls, we listened to our partners’ needs and kept the lines of communication open. By the time vaccine rollout began, we had really strong relationships, and it was easier to get the vaccines out.
Albertsons Grocery Store Pharmacy Partnership
Initially, many traditional vaccine providers were unable to provide COVID-19 vaccines due to storage limitations and staffing shortages. Many healthcare providers were also unaware of the Idaho state guidelines to become a COVID-19 vaccine provider.
One of CDH’s first major vaccine partners was Boise City-based Albertsons Grocery Store pharmacy. Not only was the chain’s pharmacy one of the few providers with adequate cold storage freezers needed to house and transport COVID-19 vaccines, but it was also one of the first local vaccine providers with mobile vaccination capacity.
CDH and Albertsons had not frequently worked together beyond an annual pharmacy emergency exercise drill, but their shared mission to distribute COVID-19 vaccines throughout the district quickly strengthened the partnership.
Mobile Vaccination Clinics Bring Vaccines to Idaho Schools and People Homebound
Between January 29 and April 18, 2021, Boise County vaccinated more than 500 people across eight school-located events.
Albertsons does not have stores in neighboring Boise County, so they brought their mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics from Ada County to Boise County schools.
“In a rural county like Boise, this is a significant number,” says Laura Smith, CDH Division of Community and Environmental Health program manager. “We would not have been able to reach so many residents without our partnership with Albertsons.”
CDH’s approach to school-located vaccination clinics:
- Leveraged strong working relationship with county school administrators from providing COVID-19 school health guidance and testing.
- Agreed to hold COVID-19 vaccination clinics in schools on Saturdays to avoid disrupting school days or Sunday religious services.
- Gave school staff the opportunity to help at the clinics and get vaccinated themselves.
CDH’s approach to vaccinating people who are homebound:
- Teamed up with the emergency manager in Boise County to vaccinate older adults, emergency responders, and others unable to travel into the city.
- Partnered with Idaho Meals on Wheels and the Idaho National Guard to vaccinate people who are homebound.
Overall, CDH customized their efforts to the needs of their community and prioritized those needs over their organization’s formal emergency response plan. “Being able to move quickly, and fitting that adaptability into a long-term plan, has been essential,” said Ms. Smith. “At the end of the day, our success was all relationship-based.”
We focused on numbers of shots in arms. We didn’t care if people were from the county or not and expanded vaccinations to non-residents ─ including people visiting relatives.
Prioritizing partnerships embedded within the community built a strong network of trust ─ enabling CDH to meet the community where they are. While Idaho continues to address vaccine hesitancy challenges in rural and frontier areas, CDH believes strong partnerships are key to vaccine uptake.
What are you, your health department, or your organization doing to support COVID-19 vaccination in your community? Share your story with email@example.com and you could see it on our COVID-19 Vaccine Community Features page.