WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Dr. Tracie Collins, Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health on utilizing trusted messengers to distribute COVID-19 vaccine information and deploying vaccine access via in-house clinics at worksites and mobile units in rural communities. Rosen specifically highlighted the work Las Vegas hospitality, gaming, and workforce partners are doing to help ensure Nevada workers can get the COVID-19 vaccine. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.
ROSEN: It is critical that we make the vaccination process as seamless and transparent as possible and that we meet people where they are. That’s why I’m so pleased that a number of Nevada’s key hospitality and gaming partners – our workforce, our employers -- are hosting in-house COVID-19 vaccination clinics, many including hotels on our Las Vegas Strip. So, this is especially important in my state, where our hospitality workforce is primarily Latino, and we know Latino communities both in Nevada and across the country have been so disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Dr. Collins, can you talk about – in addition to our faith-based community, in addition to our community allies and partners – what about our workforce community partners, our employers, and coworkers, what role do they play in communicating reliable vaccine information to our employees and our communities as a whole, and how these in-house clinics at large employers can help alleviate employees’ need make that time sacrifice or take time off to go to a remote clinic somewhere?
COLLINS: Thank you, Senator Rosen. That’s a great question, and it’s imperative that we partner with employers so that we work with them to ensure that employees have time off to go and get the vaccine or that the employer has set aside a site near the employer where the employee can get vaccinated. So, it’s really key, because we have to keep in mind, the people who you mentioned who have been greatly impacted by this virus is really a population that’s working, and we can’t expect them to take time off from work and lose wages to get the vaccine.
So, we need to make sure we’re working with employers and that we’re doing so efficiently, and that the employer has good messaging to give to their employees about the value of the vaccine and how they can get access to it, and that it’s free.
ROSEN: Thank you. I’d like to continue to build on access because in Nevada -- like New Mexico -- we have lots of remote rural and frontier counties. They are spread out across nearly 87% of our state’s geographic area. They are hard-to-reach populations that often lack broadband, reliable cell phone service, or other communication methods that are readily available in our urban areas. Nevada’s Nye County is the third-largest county by size [in the U.S.] but home to just 45,000 residents, and so the emergency management department has relied primarily on word of mouth to communicate information about mobile vaccine sites. Dr. Collins, I know in New Mexico you have some of the same rural issues that we do, so how is word of mouth been leveraged to disseminate critical information about these mobile units, so we ensure that everyone gets the vaccine?
COLLINS: Yes, it’s really word of mouth. Our community health workers have gotten out into these rural areas to tell people where they can get the vaccine, how efficacious it is. We also have partnered with pharmacies to get out to residents who cannot leave their homes to provide home vaccinations. So, word of mouth is key, and access is key. It’s really about making sure we’re reaching those folks who may not have access to the internet. Also, I want to thank our Governor because she just signed a bill to really expand broadband access and internet connectivity, so we’re really moving in the right direction in New Mexico.
ROSEN: Do you have any other suggestions for other things besides expanding broadband access – which is, of course, going to take some time – for how Congress, how we can maybe help reach some of those remote areas and do a better job, particularly as we navigate through COVID, and maybe there will be boosters that will be necessary or what have you going forward.
COLLINS: You’ve been very supportive of the American Rescue Plan. That’s really helpful. It’s a great start, but the idea is how can we get more of these mobile units out to these rural areas and set them up so they can distribute vaccines, and how can we leverage existing infrastructure to increase messaging to very remote areas and the underserved.
ROSEN: Thank you. I appreciate it, and I look forward to working on all of this.