A study by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy shows that black residents in many regions of the US need to travel further to get a Covid-19 vaccine – which poses a potential accessibility issue.
“Pharmacies should be easily accessible, but in some places there is little capacity or density and the floodgates are opening,” said Lucas Berenbrok, assistant professor at the School of Pharmacy and lead author of the study. “If there are obstacles like travel times, there has to be a plan to reach these people. We cannot forget them. ”
Beginning in December, Berenbrok and Immaculada Hernandez, an associate Pitt Professor and lead author on the study, worked with the West Health Policy Center and began mapping nearly 70,000 potential vaccine distribution locations, including community pharmacies, state-qualified health centers, and rural health clinics outpatient hospital departments. Then the researchers compared the distance between where the Americans lived and the locations.
The researchers found that in 69 counties across the country, black residents are significantly more likely than white residents to live more than a mile from their nearest vaccination site and have a longer drive time. Those 69 counties included 23 that contained major urban centers – including Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, New Orleans, and others.
Looking at more rural counties, Hernandez said there were more than 300 counties where black residents were more likely to live more than 10 miles from their closest distribution – about 90 of which had statistically significant differences. She said states like Nebraska, Montana, and Kansas have high numbers of rural counties with this problem.
According to the researchers, three quarters of the districts with differences in access also have a high rate of Covid-19 infections.
In Allegheny County, almost all residents are within 10 miles. Approximately 56% of the population are within a mile and 87% within two miles. Compared to many areas, that’s not bad, said Berenbrock – but that doesn’t mean there are still no barriers to entry.
“Ten miles doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone,” he said. “Ten miles for someone with a car is much more accessible than ten miles for someone who doesn’t have a car and has to get on a bus, walk, find public transit.”
And public transportation could now be even more unreliable due to pandemic issues, Hernandez said. She added that there may also be census blocks – be it streets, parish lines, or other boundaries – that create additional barriers within Allegheny County and other counties across the country.
Calculating the distance between communities and vaccine distribution locations is just one of several academic studies conducted at universities in Pittsburgh that specifically focus on racial and ethnic differences in vaccine distribution. Carnegie Mellon University researchers surveyed Facebook users to look for differences in access to vaccines, and another Pitt study examines misinformation and suspicion about vaccines in certain communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 5% of the 13 million Americans who were vaccinated in the first month of the rollout were black. In Pennsylvania, however, data on racial and ethnic differences in vaccine distribution are severely limited – the race of more than 228,000 of the 671,820 partially vaccinated Pennsylvanians is flagged as “unknown” on the state’s data dashboard. That means data is missing for about 34% of all residents who received their first dose.
Hernandez said they were quick to notice differences between different areas of their public health infrastructure – some don’t have enough facilities, some have facilities too far from residents, and some have both problems at the same time.
She said the original aim of the latest study was to serve as a guide or blueprint for companies arranging locations for vaccination clinics. There is open access to the data, which means that state and local health authorities could make decisions to improve vaccine accessibility.
“We wanted this data to be used as a planning tool,” said Hernandez. “We plan to have access to facilities that could be used to deliver Covid vaccines, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of them have or will receive the vaccine. We wanted this to be used more to inform health authorities where additional resources are needed to achieve equitable distribution. ”
Berenbrock hopes the data could lead to solutions, such as bringing mobile vaccination clinics to communities where more people have to keep driving.
“Our maps show the potential administration sites – they don’t really show where the vaccine is available or where it is at the moment,” he said. “And I think that underscores that we cannot rely on our existing infrastructures to reach everyone in this fair way, for which the federal government has done its best.”
Teghan Simonton is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.
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