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Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine helping vaccinate rural America

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"CBS This Morning" lead national correspondent David Begnaud visited a small hospital in rural Kentucky as they were receiving 200 vials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He spoke to the hospital CEO, who says this is a game-changer because it has been challenging to get their hands on other vaccines.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC - THE CHAINSMOKERS, "DON'T LET ME DOWN"]

- Welcome back to CBS This Morning. Recently created mass vaccination sites, like this one outside of Washington DC, have become bustling workhorses-- you could say-- in the fight against the coronavirus. But for many people living in the rural areas, sites like these are impossible to reach. Our lead national correspondent David Begnaud is here, in studio. He's been looking into the challenges.

David, good morning. It's so good to see you. But here's the question-- many smaller hospitals say it just hasn't been easy to get that vaccine.

DAVID BEGNAUD: It hasn't. Good morning, my friend. Good to see you in person, too. Let's start with this-- remember rural America. Wednesday, we went to Columbus, Ohio, where the Ohio State University Medical Center appeared to be the first in the nation to get the J&J vaccine, and actually put it to use. For them, it's like an added tool in the toolbox, along with Pfizer and Moderna. Then we drove about four and a half hours south, into rural Kentucky, to see how J&J is helping 25-bed hospital.

Welcome to Russell County, Kentucky. Population, about 12,000. Its largest town is Russell Springs. That's about two hours south of Lexington, and about two hours north of Nashville. The only hospital for miles is the Russell County Hospital.

We're not kidding when we say this is rural America. Paint the picture for us.

- The things you take for granted-- going to the corner store, or to a big box store-- we're driving 30, 40, 50 miles.

DAVID BEGNAUD: Meet Patrick Branco. He is the hospital's CEO. He says, prior to this week, the state of Kentucky had only sent his rural hospital enough vaccines to vaccinate about 200 people.

- They stopped sending Moderna vaccine, or Pfizer, out to the small rural communities, because they would rather get large groups of people. My most vulnerable population, in our rural setting, have a difficult time getting access to the distribution sites located in the urban centers of the state.

DAVID BEGNAUD: And that's why this was a big deal. Yesterday, he and his team received 200 vials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which can be stored in a regular refrigerator.

- When they called me up, and said you're going to get 200 doses on Wednesday. And two or three weeks, you're going to get on a regular cycle of getting 200 doses every week.

DAVID BEGNAUD: That's huge!

- I can start to address this entire county.

DAVID BEGNAUD: Well, the work started right away. In fact, the shipment arrived early. And at a rural hospital, everybody's got to pitch.

- Count the number of vials we have.

DAVID BEGNAUD: Lab director Lois Moore took the lead.

- Could you be here at 10:45 this morning?

DAVID BEGNAUD: Cassie Hadley worked the phones, lining up patients.

- Well, Hi!

DAVID BEGNAUD: Miss Alberta Thomas was already on the list. And she was out the door early. This 90-year-old specifically wanted J&J's vaccine, because she knew it would be one and she's done. She hopped out of that car at the hospital, but she didn't want to go inside though. So she sat out in the meditation garden, and they went to her.

- Hi, there.

- You're going to stick me.

- I am going to stick you.

- All righty.

DAVID BEGNAUD: There, in the Kentucky sun--

- That is it.

DAVID BEGNAUD: It was done.

- I hope it means that I never will have to have COVID again. I had it.

DAVID BEGNAUD: How bad was it?

- The COVID, itself, wasn't that bad. But the after effects? Oh, man. I have never known tiredness or weakness. I mean, it was a case of shall I sit here and starve or shall I actually walk to the refrigerator?

DAVID BEGNAUD: Wow, it was that bad?

- It was that bad.

DAVID BEGNAUD: Hearing a 90-year-old lady talk about suffering with COVID like that is partly why the hospital CEO is so thankful to have J&J here.

- Johnson & Johnson has brought a project to our community that's easier to administer, easier to store, easier to get into the arms.

DAVID BEGNAUD: And all three of those things, for a rural-- really rural hospital, like you-- means what?

- It means we don't leave people behind. And that's my biggest concern.

DAVID BEGNAUD: You can hear it in his voice. We reached out to the State Health Department for comment, in regards to Kentucky halting other vaccine shipments to the hospital. We didn't hear back. It's important to note, Kentucky is sending about 100 doses per week to the Russell County Health Department. So it's not just the hospital bearing the burden. And Miss Alberta Thomas? She is 90 years old, and she had 14 kids.

- Wow!

- Wow. She painted quite a picture, David. And she didn't want-- she did not want to go in the hospital. I like how you said, "She hopped out, but she refused to go in."

DAVID BEGNAUD: Uh-uh. She said, "I'm not going in." She said, "I'll sit right here, and you come to me." At 90 years old, you can dictate people like that.

- Yes, you can.

DAVID BEGNAUD: Order people around like that.

- And tell people to stick you.

- I love it.

- May we all make it to 90, may we all do that.

- David Begnaud, going where the big box stores aren't.