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Vaccine access limited in rural communities

Some parents travel many miles to get their kids vaccinated

LUKE HOLLISTER, Evergreen contributor

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Getting a vaccination in rural areas can be challenging given the remote location and financial toll of traveling.

Troy Henderson, Whitman County director of public health, said accessing vaccines is far easier in the city.

“If you live in an urban setting, there’s 50 different stores [where you can get a flu shot],” he said. “If you’re in Lamont, Washington, there is not anyone in Lamont that gives a flu shot.”

Crystal Lawson, 37, commutes from Garfield to Pullman, about 25 miles, to get her five- and nine-year-old children vaccinated.

Most people get flu vaccinations regularly, Lawson said, but they may not if it means taking an extra trip to town.

Depending on the weather, the drive to Pullman can take up to 45 minutes, she said.

“It would be easier if we didn’t have to take them to Pullman,” she said.

Lawson said she only knows of one family in Garfield that does not vaccinate, and once had a local Facebook parenting page kick her out of the group for promoting vaccines.

Krystal Swartz, 29, travels from the outskirts of Viola, Idaho, to get vaccinations for her nine-month-old child. The drive can be more than 30 minutes depending on weather conditions, Swartz said.

For Swartz, an Alaska native, driving through the snow has never been a problem, she said.

She said around Viola, many families have babies who are under a year old, and she only knows of one family that does not get vaccinated.

Heather Roduner, 36, from Oakesdale, travels roughly 53 miles to get her yearly vaccination in Spokane.

Money is an issue when it comes to getting vaccinations, she said, adding that her family had to buy four-wheel-drive vehicles so they can still drive when the roads are bad.

Roduner said most older people in Oakesdale get flu vaccinations on a regular basis. But, in general, “the younger generations don’t want to get vaccinated,” she said.

She said her family took more trips when their children were younger, because in the first year of having a child, they receive vaccinations almost monthly.

Roduner said she chooses to get her medical care in Spokane even though it is not the closest clinic to her.

Danica Larson, 23, travels from Troy, Idaho, to Moscow every couple of months to vaccinate her five-month-old child.

“We have just always chosen to make that a priority,” she said.

The biggest challenge is when the weather gets bad, Larson said.

She said she knows a few people who do not get vaccinations, but the majority of people in Troy get vaccinated.

The Whitman County Public Health Department spends a fairly low amount of money on vaccine outreach, but they are increasing their efforts this year, Henderson said.

“If transportation is a struggle for you, and it is for some folks in the rural areas,” he said, “just having access to some of those services can be a challenge.”

In the coming year, public health workers in Whitman County will try to reach towns like Endicott and Lamont by driving there to provide vaccination services, he said, since many towns do not have a medical presence.

Deanna Claybaugh, a Whitman County Public Health Department nurse, said most residents living in the county’s rural towns get their flu vaccination information from ads the department puts in the local paper, Claybaugh said.

“We try to encourage people as much as we can,” she said.

Sometimes people are skeptical, she said, because they read or hear incorrect information from other sources. She added that middle-aged people tend to be more wary of vaccines.

When you explain the flu, people generally get the flu shot, Claybaugh said. She has worked with vaccination for more than 30 years.

“I can typically talk most people into getting a flu vaccine,” she said, but she added there are always going to be people who will refuse no matter what.

This flu season, the flu has caused one death in Whitman County and a total of 151 deaths in Washington, according to the state’s Department of Health.

About the Writer
LUKE HOLLISTER, Evergreen assistant photo editor

Luke Hollister is a senior journalism major from Sultan, Washington. He is set to graduate in December 2018.

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Vaccine access limited in rural communities