A view of the vaccine rollout from rural America
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The coronavirus vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been slower than officials projected. There have been organizational challenges, such as figuring out who’s in charge of what and who goes first. And there have been logistical concerns, such as the need for powerful freezers and two doses.
Those challenges were always going to look a little bit different in rural America, where Dr. Scott Anzalone, one of the 10 people we’ve been following in our series “United States of Work,” is a family physician. He’s got a small practice in Logan, Ohio, and is also the president of the local school board. The following is an edited transcript of his latest conversation with “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal.
Kai Ryssdal: First of all, as you step out the front door of your clinic there and walk down the streets of Logan, Ohio, what’s it like right now?
Scott Anzalone: It’s kind of gloomy, gray, Ohio — temperature’s about 35 degrees.
Ryssdal: Which matches the mood in a lot of ways. So as you go about your duties as No. 1, a small-town doctor and No. 2, the president of the local school [board], how are things?
Anzalone: Things have been busy here since Thanksgiving. COVID has made us all active in our jobs, trying to keep our kids educated and keeping our offices going. It’s been a busy time.
Ryssdal: Well, let’s take them one by one. One: You as an entrepreneur and a medical practitioner — are you seeing patients in your clinic? Do you get the vaccines? I mean, give me the rundown.
Anzalone: Yeah, so I’ve been seeing patients face to face since this all began. I’ve never not seen patients. I’m not a big telehealth proponent. On the vaccine, my staff and myself, we just got vaccinated on Monday. We were second in line. The hospital staff, emergency room staff, they were first line, obviously. But we just now got the vaccines about two weeks ago here in Hocking County.
Ryssdal: And this is an illustration of the logistics of this vaccine, right? Because you are at the end of the supply chain, you’re in a small town, you probably don’t have those nuclear-powered freezers you need for these vaccines, right?
Anzalone: No we didn’t. Actually, our local critical-access hospital had the funds to buy one of those for the Pfizer vaccine, but they were backordered. So we weren’t in line to get the Pfizer vaccine, but we do have the Moderna, and the problem we’re running into here locally is our county’s only getting 100 doses a week. I’m looking at trying to get my office signed up so we can receive them and give them in our office. That will take some of the burden off the health department. Our next big push right now is to get our teachers and all of our school staff vaccinated, but we’ve got about 450 teachers and faculty and staff in our building, so if we’re only getting 100 doses a week, that’s gonna take some time.
Ryssdal: Well thank you for the segue to your side gig, your side hustle as it were, as the president of the local school board. Are you in session in person? Are you out of school? What’s going on?
Anzalone: So, we’ve been able to keep our kids in class up until Thanksgiving. Right before Thanksgiving, the week before Thanksgiving, things kind of hit the fan here. We got a spike in cases and [school] went virtual. That was logistically difficult because we have a lot of areas here that don’t have good internet access, but we were able to pull it off. Our attendance rate, we kept it up, but grades were starting to slide. Starting next Monday, we’ll be going back [in person] full time.
Ryssdal: Wow. I remember last time we talked, which was a number of months ago, you were putting Wi-Fi hot spots on school buses and driving them around. Did that work out?
Anzalone: Yeah. So we were able to put some hot spots on buses and put them out in the county. We also beefed up our internet abilities at each of our elementary schools so that parents could actually come to the parking lots as well and would have free access.
Ryssdal: So let’s talk about the future here for a second. Because early on in our talks, I asked you about what’s next for you as you start thinking about maybe next steps in your life and retiring and all that and we talked about trying to find a partner for your practice. And have you found one yet?
Anzalone: Well, fingers crossed. I’ve actually got a resident who’s finishing up her residency in June this next year, who’s coming to do a one-week rotation with me starting Monday — kind of a working interview so we can interview each other basically. So I’ve got my fingers crossed that God’s sending me someone that can help us out in our community.
Ryssdal: That’s funny, it’s got to be a remarkably personal thing, right?
Anzalone: Yeah, it is, and it’s tough to find someone who’s willing to come into a rural community, especially now with the political environment we’re in, we have no idea really what medicine is going to look like in the next year, two years, five years from now. But I’m hoping she’ll see the pluses of rural, small-town private practice.
Ryssdal: Well, fingers crossed for you, Scott. Fingers crossed.
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