Editor’s Note: Karen S. Lynch is president and CEO of CVS Health. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
The availability this week of Covid-19 vaccines in the nation’s largest pharmacies will begin to change the trajectory of the pandemic across the US. As one of the federal government’s national pharmacy partners for Covid-19 vaccinations, CVS Health is ready to continue our role in the coordinated response to the pandemic. And it is our responsibility – and mission – to make sure that vaccinations get distributed to those who need it the most.
We are committed to narrowing the gap in health disparities that significantly impact communities of color. As we did when we set up our Covid testing sites last year, we will continue to reach out to historically underserved and multicultural communities, many of which have been disproportionately affected by serious diseases, including Covid-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Black, Latinx and Native American Covid-19 patients are hospitalized at roughly four times the rate of White patients and are two to three times as likely to die from the disease.
When identifying stores and other sites for Covid testing last year, we carefully chose locations to promote equitable distribution and access. Today, more than half of our testing sites serve communities with the greatest need for support as determined by the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index. Now, as we begin in-store vaccinations in 11 states we will continue to make equally intentional decisions about where vaccinations will be available.
We’re confident we will be able to make a meaningful difference in more and more states as increasing vaccine supply allows us to further expand. In fact, our growing team of more than 90,000 pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and other trained health care professionals are able to administer 20 to 25 million vaccinations a month at our nearly 10,000 retail locations once the supply is available. We have the experience, having already administered almost 20 million flu shots this season, as well as more than 3.2 million Covid-19 vaccinations to residents and staff of more than 40,000 long-term care facilities.
We learned a lot from setting up Covid testing sites, so as we roll out the vaccine, we can move faster to serve communities most in need. We also continue to put data analytics to work to gain insights into our customers, their needs and the barriers to care they face.
We recognize the challenges in vaccinating underserved populations. According to a recent CVS Health white paper, survey data shows that hesitancy to receive a vaccine is growing in Black and Latinx communities. In fact, 51% of Latinx respondents are concerned the vaccine could have harmful side effects and 35% of Blacks reported they are not planning to get a vaccine.
That’s why we’re leading targeted, multicultural outreach campaigns focused on local education. We are also working with trusted community leaders to help overcome many of these obstacles, some of which are rooted in historical experiences of injustice. Working to address concerns, dispel myths and improve access can ultimately help to increase uptake for the most vulnerable among us.
We approach the vaccination effort with the same commitment we’ve made to address inequality faced by Black people and other disenfranchised communities through our five-year, $600 million investment to advance employee, community and public policy initiatives. Covid-19 has been more devastating to some communities than others, and as vaccinations ramp up, our response will continue to take that difference into account.
We are so proud to be part of the solution to the greatest public health challenge of our lifetime. We are determined to do all we can to help ensure that everyone who wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated.