Jan 15, 2021 - Health

"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts

Map of "vaccine deserts"

Millions of Americans who live in "pharmacy deserts" could have extra trouble accessing coronavirus vaccines quickly, according to a new analysis by GoodRx.

Why it matters: Places without nearby pharmacies, or with a large population-to-pharmacy ratio, may need to rely on mass vaccination sites or other measures to avoid falling behind.

The big picture: Pharmacies will play a huge role in the vaccine rollout, especially as shots become more available to the general population.

  • But if people have to drive far to get a shot, or if pharmacies can't keep up with local demand, that could leave millions of Americans vulnerable to the virus for longer than people in better-served areas.
  • "Pharmacy deserts in turn create 'vaccine deserts' — where the rate of vaccination is slower simply because there aren’t enough vaccination appointments available due to limited pharmacy capacity," the GoodRx analysis says.
  • "The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine may take even longer without additional resources like mass vaccination sites," it says.

By the numbers: The incoming Biden administration has set a goal of vaccinating 100 million people in 100 days, or about 16% of the unvaccinated U.S. population, per GoodRx.

  • But "nearly half of all counties would have a slower local vaccination rate, generating further healthcare access inequities in areas that are already more likely to be under-resourced in the fight against COVID-19," the analysis concludes.
  • 177 counties don't have any pharmacies at all, leaving 635,000 people forced between foregoing a vaccine or potentially driving long distances to get one.

Go deeper: The growth of "pharmacy deserts"

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