Will retail pharmacies be the cure for America’s ‘vaccine deserts’?
Communities that have long had trouble attracting grocers that sell fresh and nutritious foods may find they have pulled the short straw when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations, as well.
So-called food deserts may also turn out to be vaccine deserts, according to a recent CNBC report, which highlights early criticism of the state of Florida’s approach to getting its at-risk citizenry vaccinated against the virus.
A recent analysis by the Sun-Sentinel newspaper found that the rollout of the state’s vaccination program being administered through pharmacies at Publix stores was bypassing many low-income neighborhoods with minority populations. Indigenous Americans, Blacks and Latinx populations have been among the hardest hit per capita when it comes to serious illness and deaths from COVID-19, according to the CDC.
Emma Boswell Dean, an assistant professor of health management and policy at University of Miami’s Herbert Business School, told CNBC that the for-profit model of retail food chains means they are less likely to operate stores in low income communities. The net result, she said, is that communities that lack access to nutritious grocery options are also going to be at a disadvantage when it comes to vaccine distribution. “You have communities hit twice,” she said. “You’re a food desert. Now you’re a vaccine desert.”
The state government in Tallahassee has said that it has begun supplying county health clinics with vaccines to help make sure that everyone who qualifies for a vaccine can get one.
Florida announced last week that it is expanding its program through more Publix locations as well as those operated by Fresco y Mas, Walmart and Winn-Dixie. A total of 6,500 pharmacies across the U.S., including those operated by Costco, CVS, Jewel-Osco, Kroger, Meijer, Rite Aid, Safeway and Walgreens, will get vaccines to immunize customers in groups prioritized by individual state governments.
The Biden administration’s plan being debated in Congress would allocate funds to vaccinate individuals in traditionally underserved communities, organizing partnerships with community-based groups and local healthcare providers and deploying the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to work with the National Guard and state and local teams. Mobile vaccination centers are also part of the plan to make sure that underserved urban and rural communities are not left high and dry.
- Covid vaccine ‘deserts’ and tech woes: Publix’s Florida rollout highlights risks as retailers play a larger role – CNBC
- Publix COVID vaccine lies out of the reach for poor, Black Floridians – Sun-Sentinel
- Does the Publix vaccine distribution plan leave Black communities behind? – News4Jax
- Some Florida Winn Dixie, Fresco y Más, Harvey’s stores to begin distributing COVID-19 vaccine beginning Thursday – WCTV.TV
- U.S. Pharmacies Will Start to Get a Big Infusion of Vaccines – The New York Times
- Fact Sheet: President-elect Biden Outlines COVID-19 Vaccination Plan – The White House
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you see as the biggest internal and external challenges facing retail pharmacies when it comes to immunizing large numbers of people against COVID-19? Do you think that pharmacies have a significant role to play in bringing COVID-19 vaccines to underserved areas or are other paths of distribution more likely to get large numbers of people vaccinated quickly?