Low-income black communities are at risk of being left behind when it comes to accessing the COVID-19 vaccine, once it is available to the general public.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services has announced that major drugstore chains will distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, some low-income communities do not have accessible pharmacies.
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People in many poor communities in the United States are concerned that the lack of affordable pharmacies may limit their access to COVID-19 vaccines, once they are available to the general public.
Rochelle Sykes, who lives on the west side of Chicago, where there are no pharmacies within walking distance, told CNN that she is concerned that some of the most vulnerable people might be overlooked. The fact that many of its neighbors have pre-existing health problems and lack reliable transport makes the situation particularly dire.
“If they are going to launch a vaccine and are going to launch it in supermarkets and pharmacies, I see a problem,” said Sykes. “Is it free? That’s a question. And how are they (residents) going to get there to get it?”
Vaccines will be free for most Americans.
An October 2019 analysis in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that between 2009 and 2015, 1 in 8 closed pharmacies and most of them were independent suppliers in poorer urban areas.
Civil rights and public health activists told CNN that they fear it could put poor communities in trouble when it comes to vaccinating.
“It will be a mess, especially if this vaccine is seen as safe and effective,” Reverend Marshall Elijah Hatch Sr. of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, on the west side of Chicago, told CNN. “It is very difficult to imagine that there will be any kind of equal distribution. We will have to fight.”
Last month, the United States Department of Health and Human Services announced that major drugstore chains such as CVS, Costco, Walmart, Rite Aid and Walgreens will distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The vast majority of Americans live less than five miles from a pharmacy, and our new agreement with partner pharmacies across America is a critical step in ensuring that all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines when they are available. “, HHS Secretary Alex Azar stated in a statement.
However, this can be difficult in low-income areas. In Chicago, only 23% of the 500 active pharmacies were located in areas where the majority were black, CNN reported.
In Philadelphia, the five counties with the highest percentage of blacks had only one pharmacy per square kilometer compared to 24 pharmacies per square kilometer in the five counties with the highest percentage of whites, a 2016 study from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia found.
Efforts are underway across the country to help ensure that people who may not have easy access can be vaccinated.
Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and executive director of the New York Federation of Protestant Wellness Agencies, is also a member of a task force that is working to ensure equal access to vaccines for people of color.
They proposed solutions such as mobile clinics to help address gaps in access to healthcare and pharmacy, CNN reported.
“We don’t want a situation where low-income people, people of color have to travel miles outside their own community to get access to this vaccine,” Austin told CNN. “We have to figure out how to bring that access closer to home.”
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