With the recent emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and the White House’s commitment to partner with pharmacies throughout the United States, the role of the pharmacist within the administration of COVID-19 vaccinations is clear and critical. However, much less talked about are the millions of socially disadvantaged people throughout the country who fear they’ll be unfairly excluded from getting the COVID-19 vaccine when their turn comes.
“Pharmacy deserts” present limited access
Pharmacy deserts – a term coined by public health experts – are characterized as communities that have poor or no access to pharmacies or grocery stores within walking distance. Typically found in low income Black and Brown neighborhoods, pharmacy deserts are home to those who tend to suffer from chronic underlying conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, and who tend to not have access to transportation. As a result, the mere physical act of getting to a pharmacy can pose an insurmountable logistical and economic challenge, leaving many now feeling scared and helpless when it comes to figuring out a way to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Two prior regional studies – one from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014 and the other from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia in 2016 – similarly found that limited pharmacy access was far more common in predominantly Black neighborhoods than in white ones. In fact, these studies seem to be corroborated by what has transpired on a national level over the past few years. According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), approximately 5,310 pharmacies closed across the U.S. between 2015 and 2019; most of these closures occurred in low-income, urban minority neighborhoods due to low Medicare and Medicaid prescription reimbursement rates.2 Further supporting the pharmacy desert trend, is data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which reveals that non-elderly Black people are more likely to be on Medicaid than White people.
Answering the call for better health through PrescribeWellness
The reality is community pharmacists not only provide critical services, but in many areas, they serve as the primary care source for patients who face extraordinary health, financial, and social challenges that are amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. But with these challenges also comes an opportunity to continue to deliver care to those who need it most — if you are ready to answer the call for better community health, PrescribeWellness is here to help.
The 411 on 211
To enhance the care you currently provide, PrescribeWellness has made available resources from 211.org, the most comprehensive source of locally curated social services information. Integrated into the PrescribeWellness workflow, pharmacists can leverage embedded community resources to connect patients with critical services and resources, such as:
- Food and nutrition programs
- Shelter and housing options
- Employment and education opportunities
- Services for veterans
- Healthcare, vaccination, and health epidemic information
- Addiction prevention and rehabilitation programs
- Support groups for mental illness and special needs
- Confidential solutions for physical, emotional, and domestic abuse
- And so much more
Obtaining insight into a patient’s unique social determinants of health (SDOH) can help pharmacists make better, more informed decisions for optimized care. In addition to the integration of 211.org, the PrescribeWellness solution also enables pharmacists to track SDOH within its eCare plan solution. Located directly within the PrescribeWellness platform, community pharmacists can document and address SDOH to provide more holistic care at a time when it’s needed most.
PrescribeWellness remains dedicated to providing community pharmacists opportunities to meet their patients where they are, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through integrated community resources and SDOH insight, pharmacists can take action to provide optimized care to the communities they serve.
Additionally, for the latest information on requirements, reporting, and reimbursement related to COVID-19 vaccines, please visit our new COVID-19 Vaccine Resource Center.
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