Disparities in United States COVID-19 vaccine distribution

When reports showed COVID-19 vaccination rates were lower among racial/ethnic minority groups, most discussions focused on mistrust and misinformation among these populations or their reduced access to health care facilities. But new research from University of California San Diego and collaborating institutions has identified an additional barrier to equity: whether or not each health care facility actually received and administered vaccines.

In a study published July 28, 2022 in PLOS Medicine, researchers demonstrated that health care facilities serving underrepresented, rural and hardest-hit communities were less likely to administer COVID-19 vaccines in the early phase of the vaccine rollout.

Led by Inmaculada Hernandez, PharmD, PhD, associate professor of clinical pharmacy at Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California San Diego, the study is the first to quantify disparities in the early distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to health care facilities across the country.

Previous studies of vaccine accessibility have not distinguished whether lower access in underserved neighborhoods was a product of the lower concentration of health care facilities in these areas or of inequities in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to each health care facility.

To answer this question, Hernandez and colleagues tested whether the likelihood of an eligible health care facility administering COVID-19 vaccines varied based on the racial/ethnic composition and urbanicity of the local county. The team focused on the initial phase of vaccine rollout, using data from May 2021 when states were officially required to make vaccines available to the public.

At that time, 61 percent of eligible health care facilities and 76 percent of eligible pharmacies across the U.S. provided COVID-19 vaccinations. When researchers began comparing these rates with the socioeconomic features of the county each facility was located in, several patterns emerged.

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