Poor communities of color that don't have many pharmacies within walking distance worry they may be left behind when COVID-19 vaccines roll out to the general public next year
COVID-19 vaccine Getty / Mladen Antonov
Low-income color communities run the risk of being left behind in accessing the COVID-19 vaccine once it is available to the public.
The U.S. Department of Health announced that major pharmacy chains will be selling the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, accessible pharmacies are lacking in some low-income communities.
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People in many poor communities in the US are concerned that a lack of accessible pharmacies could restrict their access to COVID-19 vaccines once they are available to the general public.
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Rochelle Sykes, who lives on the west side of Chicago where there are no pharmacies within walking distance, told CNN she was concerned that some of the most vulnerable people might be missed. The fact that many of their neighbors already suffer from illness and do not have reliable transportation makes the situation particularly dire.
"If they bring in a vaccine and bring it into grocery stores and pharmacies, I see a problem," Sykes said. "Will it be free? That's a question. And how are they (residents) going to get there to get it?"
The vaccines are free for most Americans.
An October 2019 analysis in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that one in eight pharmacies closed between 2009 and 2015, and most of them were independent providers in poorer urban areas.
Civil rights activists and public health activists told CNN they fear this could desert poor communities when it comes to getting vaccinated.
"It's going to be a great mess, especially if this vaccine is deemed safe and effective," Rev. 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 some kind of egalitarian distribution. We will have to fight."
Last month, the U.S. Department of Health announced that major pharmacy chains such as CVS, Costco, Walmart, Rite Aid and Walgreens would be selling the COVID-19 vaccine.
"The vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy. Our new agreement with pharmacy partners across America is a critical step in ensuring that all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines when they are are available, "HHS Secretary Alex Azar stated in a press release.
However, this can be difficult in low-income areas. In Chicago, only 23% of 500 active pharmacies were in areas that were mostly black, CNN reported.
In Philadelphia, the five counties with the highest proportions of blacks had only one pharmacy per square mile, compared to 24 pharmacies per square mile in the five counties with the highest proportions of whites, a 2016 study by the University of Science in Philadelphia found.
Efforts are being made across the country to ensure that people who may not have easy access can continue to be vaccinated.
Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and Executive Director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies in New York, is also a member of a task force working to ensure that people of color have equal access to vaccines.
They have proposed solutions like mobile clinics to fill gaps in access to health care and pharmacies, CNN reported.
"We don't want a situation where people with low incomes and people of color have to travel miles outside of their own community to access this vaccine," Austin told CNN. "We need to figure out how to bring this approach closer to home."
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