Pharmacy deserts and COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Pharmacy deserts are the geographic areas which lack access to a nearby pharmacy and where pharmacy services are scarce or difficult to obtain. One of my past research explored pharmacy deserts in Pennsylvania and highlighted the disparities in accessibility to pharmacy and pharmacy services, particularly in elderly. As COVID-19 vaccines become increasingly available in the US in next few months, older adults who are at greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19 are expected to be prioritized over the general population and pharmacies will play a major role in the distribution of vaccines.

Recently, the article by David Lim and Darius Tahir published in mainstream news media POLITICO cited above research on pharmacy deserts and underlined the importance of a broader mix of vaccination sites for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine in the US, a crucial step in ending the pandemic. Few highlights of the news article are:

  1. People living in pharmacy deserts may experience difficulty in accessing COVID-19 vaccine and hence COVID-19 vaccines may also be distributed in schools and churches in addition to pharmacies, hospitals and clinics.
  2. “Public health experts say that a major effort is needed to ensure that communities of color and low-income Americans have equal access to coronavirus vaccines once the shots are more broadly available.”
  3. “pharmacies are thinking hard about how to expand their reach. Walgreens is preparing to use mobile and off-site vaccination clinics, similar to those it runs for annual flu vaccines, to reach underserved areas when Covid-19 vaccines become available to the public.”
  4. “Pharmacies will be in a position to leverage that patient-level knowledge to prioritize vaccination of those at high risk of poor outcomes, she said. For example, they could use that information to alert people via email or text message when they are eligible to get vaccinated — even if a clinic is not being run by the store — and answer questions about the process.”
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