Breaking News
More () »

Tampa Bay and Sarasota's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Tampa Bay and Sarasota, FL | WTSP.com

As the vaccine approval process progresses, concern for rural America grows

As Pfizer and BioNTech move forward with COVID-19 vaccines, doctors have growing concerns that rural areas will be disproportionately impacted.

As Pfizer and BioNTech move forward with applications for emergency approval from the FDA to fast-track a COVID-19 vaccine to the public, doctors have growing concerns that rural areas will be disproportionately impacted when it comes to vaccine distribution.

"If you live in a rural area, or if you live in [an] area that has a very small hospital, it's very unlikely that we're going to be able to get that vaccine into that area,” said Dr. Kevin Sneed, dean of the Taneja College of Pharmacy at the University of South Florida and Senior Associate Vice President of USF Health.

Doctors say this is especially true since the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at -94 degrees. Hospitals need special refrigeration to help the vaccine last longer-- equipment smaller, rural hospitals can't always afford.

"Those freezers cost about $10,000 to $15,000 apiece...there's not a lot of them in the country,” Dr. Sneed said. "We're not going to send a freezer out to every pharmacy and every hospital in the rural area across the entire country."

This issue of supply and demand leads to a concern among doctors nationwide that rural health care workers might have to depend on urban areas for vaccine help.

"For them to have to travel and maybe take a day off of work to travel to a regional center to then stand in line to get vaccinated, go back to work, and then two weeks later go back, taking another day off-- it just makes the logistics really bad,” Tim Size, Executive Director of the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative told CBS This Morning.

This could drive an even bigger wedge in the urban-rural divide that played out in the 2020 election.

"We have a tremendous need to bridge rural Americans back together in our country,” Size said. “If basically rural's getting the message, we'll start with urban…even if it's for reasonable logistical reasons it's bad optics,” he said.

10 Tampa Bay reached out to Pfizer about plans to get vaccines to rural communities. The company told CBS News it is working with Operation Warp Speed to get vaccines to rural areas.