The Biden administration will allocate 1 million COVID-19 vaccines to community health centers nationwide in an effort to vaccinate hard-hit and difficult-to-reach populations. In a White House briefing Tuesday, Jeff Zients, COVID-19 response coordinator, said the new program will launch next week with federally-qualified health centers.
“Community health centers provide primary care services in underserved areas, reaching almost 30 million people,” Zients said. “Under this new program, we will begin directly sending vaccine supply to community health centers, enabling them to vaccinate the people they serve.”
Zients said the centers are a key part of the federal government’s strategy for an inclusive response. He later strongly dismissed an idea that vaccine equity will bog down efficiency, saying, in part, “efficiency and equity are both central to what we’re doing and I don’t see any trade-off between the two.”
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, said the program will involve a phased start and will scale up over time. She said a subset of the centers can start ordering vaccines as soon as next week.
Centers serving over 2,000 patients aged 65 and older, with large population sizes and ability to handle increased capacity around vaccine storage and staffing were targeted in the initial ramp up of the program. This involves a mix of urban and rural centers.
“Ultimately in this initial program phase, we plan to reach 250 community health centers,” she added, noting that there are more than 1,300 centers spanning across the U.S., with two-thirds of patients below the federal poverty line, and 60% of patients identifying as racial or ethnic minorities.
Of the 1 million dose allocation, half of the doses will be designated as first-doses, and the other 500,000 will be second doses, Nunez-Smith said. Through the program, the Biden administration is trying to reach homeless populations, agricultural and migrant workers, residents in public housing and those with limited English proficiency.
In the program’s initial phase, there will be one community health center included in each state and territory. As vaccine supply increases, vaccines will be available to all 1,400 centers if they choose to participate, Nunez-Smith said. The program announced Tuesday joins other efforts like mobile clinics and the federal pharmacy program.