Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
In a continued effort to ramp up COVID immunization nationwide, the Biden administration today announced its plan to ship vaccine doses directly to community centers starting next week — a move aimed to help underserved populations who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
“In addition to doses that have already been allocated to states, we’ll begin shipping these directly to community health centers,” Health Equity Task Force Chair Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, said during a press briefing. “This is really about connecting with hard-to-reach populations across the country.”
Nunez-Smith added, “Equity is our North Star here.”
Community health centers, also known as Federally Qualified Health Centers, are organizations that serve people with limited access to healthcare.
There are more than 1300 community health centers across the country, serving almost 30 million people, Nunez-Smith said. Two thirds of those patients are living at or below the federal poverty line, and 60% belong to an ethnic or racial minority group. Patients include agricultural migrant workers, the homeless, and those with language barriers.
So far, communities in need have had meager access to COVID-19 vaccines. In Washington, DC, 40% of the nearly 7000 appointments for people 65 and older were taken by residents of the wealthiest and whitest neighborhoods — where only 5% of the area’s COVID deaths occurred. Data from other big cities mirror a similar trend. Black people have died of COVID-19 at 1.5 times the rate of white people, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
The initial phase of the community center outreach program begins Monday and will serve at least one center in each state, eventually expanding to 250 centers.
They will be required to follow prioritization guidelines, Nunez-Smith said — the administration has chosen centers that serve more than 2000 people 65 and older, who have the staff and storage capacity to distribute doses.
When asked if equity comes at the cost of efficiency, COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said they were not mutually exclusive.
“I don’t accept that premise at all,” Zients said. “We can do this in a fair, equitable, and efficient way.”
The administration will also continue to increase vaccine supply to states, tribes, and territories by 5% over last week, bringing the weekly delivery to 11 million up from 8.6 million when President Joe Biden took office 3 weeks ago.
Today’s announcement comes on the heels of a program launched last week, allowing pharmacies across the country to begin offering vaccines.
Zients said the country is on track to have all residents vaccinated by this summer.