Health and Science

Biden administration to begin shipping Covid vaccine doses to community health centers

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Key Points
  • The White House will begin sending doses of Covid-19 vaccines to community health centers next week.
  • There are more than 1,300 community health centers across the country. Most of the nearly 30 million people they serve live below the poverty line and identify as racial or ethnic minorities.
  • Asked whether there is an inevitable trade-off between equity and speed of vaccine distribution, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said, "I don't accept that premise at all."
People wait outside a COVID-19 vaccine distribution center at the Kedren Community Health Center on January 28, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Mario Tama | Getty Images

The White House will begin shipping doses of Covid-19 vaccines directly to federally qualified community health centers next week to expand outreach to traditionally underserved communities, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients announced Tuesday.

Along with other initiatives such as federally supported mass vaccination sites and mobile clinics, the new program will seek to ensure equity in the vaccine rollout, Zients said.

"Equity is core to our strategy to put this pandemic behind us, and equity means that we are reaching everyone, particularly those in underserved and rural communities," Zients said. "But we cannot do this effectively at the federal level without our partners on the state and local level sharing the same commitment to equity."

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the White House's Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force, noted that there are more than 1,300 community health centers across the country, which serve almost 30 million people.

"Two-thirds of their patients live at or below the federal poverty line, and 60% of patients at community health centers identify as racial or ethnic minorities," she noted. "Equity is our North Star here. This effort that focuses on direct allocation to the community health centers really is about connecting with those hard-to-reach populations across the country."

In the rollout of the program, the White House plans to send doses to at least one center in each state, with 1 million divvied up among 250 centers in the coming weeks, Nunez-Smith said. She noted that the government is simultaneously working to increase public confidence in the vaccines, "which we know is lower in underserved communities than it is for the national average."

The announcement of the community health center program comes after the launch of the retail pharmacy program, in which the federal government is beginning to send doses directly to a few hundred pharmacies across the country. Nunez-Smith said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with participating pharmacy companies to ensure they reach "socially vulnerable areas."

The administration also announced that it's yet again boosting the number of doses it is sending every week to states. The federal government will now send out 11 million doses to states every week, up from 8.6 million it was sending out three weeks ago, Zients said.

"That is a total of a 28% increase in vaccine supply across the first three weeks," he said.

Asked whether there is an inevitable trade-off between equity and speed of vaccine distribution, Zients said, "I don't accept that premise at all."

"I think we can do this in a fair, equitable and efficient way," he said. "So efficiency and equity are both central to what we're doing, and I don't see any trade-off between the two. I think they go hand in glove."

Confidence in the vaccine has grown among adult Americans, but some demographics have shown greater levels of hesitancy about the drugs over others, according to a new CDC published Tuesday. Nearly half of adult Americans surveyed in December said they were absolutely certain or very likely to get vaccinated against Covid-19, an increase compared with responses from September, according to the study.

Younger adults, women, Black people, people living in the suburbs or rural areas and those with less education were more likely to say they didn't want the vaccine. People with lower income and those without health insurance were also more likely to say they didn't intend to get vaccinated, the researchers said.

A separate CDC study published Feb. 1 found that most of the nearly 13 million people given at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine within the first month of the drugs' distribution were women, age 50 or older and likely non-Hispanic and White. Just over half of the cases were identified by race.

"More complete reporting of race and ethnicity data at the provider and jurisdictional levels is critical to ensure rapid detection of and response to potential disparities in COVID-19 vaccination," researchers said.

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