Black People Less Likely to Live Close to COVID-19 Vaccination Sites

New study by Pitt School of Pharmacy and West Health Policy Center highlights disparities.


In many parts of the country, Black people are less likely than white people to live near a pharmacy, clinic, hospital or health center that can administer COVID-19 vaccines. 

Research by the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy and the nonprofit West Health Policy Center shows the disparities are particularly evident in 69 counties across the country, including in the states of Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Missouri, as well as in large cities such as Atlanta, New York City, Detroit, Houston and New Orleans.

Disparities in vaccine distribution have already become apparent as the first round of doses were rolled out between Dec. 14 through Jan. 14. Nearly 13 million Americans were vaccinated during this first month and of those people, 39.6% represented racial or ethnic minorities and only 5.4% were Black, according to a CDC report

“It’s important to adopt a data-driven approach to make sure we get vaccine distribution that’s equitable,” says Inmaculada Hernandez, an assistant professor at the Pitt School of Pharmacy, in a release. “We won’t be able to vaccinate everyone if we adopt a one-size-fits-all strategy statewide.”

“Pharmacies should be easy to access, but in some places there’s low capacity or low density, and the flood gates are opening,” says Lucas Berenbrok, an assistant professor at the Pitt School of Pharmacy and an author of the study. “When barriers are present, like driving times, there needs to be a plan to reach those people. We can’t forget about them.”

The CDC report also shows that data on race and ethnicity was only reported for 51.9% of individuals who received this first dosage, hampering efforts to ensure equal distribution across all populations and demographics. 

In December, West Health Policy Center and Pitt’s School of Pharmacy created VaxMap, which identifies vaccination center density in areas across the country. This interactive tool allows anyone to check for nearby COVID-19 vaccination options, with information from nearly 70,000 potential vaccine facilities. The initial version was designed to measure barriers for people over the age of 65 and their distances from these vaccination centers. 

“Our maps identified areas of the country where temporary vaccination sites in locations like parking lots, stadiums and fairgrounds will be needed to ensure all Americans have access to a vaccine,” says Sean Dickson, director of health policy at West Health Policy Center. 

“As President Biden and his team work to administer 100 million vaccines in 100 days, it is critical that state and local agencies take these geographic and demographic challenges into account to provide additional resources to areas that are underserved,” says Tim Lash, president of West Health Policy Center. “If we are to reach herd immunity and emerge on the other side of this pandemic, we must ensure age, race and ZIP code do not define access to a vaccine and future health outcomes.”

Categories: The 412