Rural America Loses Out on Vaccines

After an entire year of upheaval caused by Covid-19, companies like Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson have set our country on the path to health through their vaccinations. The vaccinations have been rolling out well, but there is a disparity in the distribution when it comes to rural America. Some parts of the country do not have proper access to medical facilities and pharmacies, and this is slowing down the process of vaccinating adults in America.

Pharmacy Wastelands

One thing that the coronavirus has taught us is that access to medical care and pharmacies is not always equitably distributed throughout the country. This was true even before the pandemic, with independent pharmacies often disappearing because of mail order pharmacies and bigger chains like Walmart and CVS.

KHN reported that “between 2003 to 2018, 1,231 independent rural pharmacies closed.” With the advent of superstores and the convenience of stopping at one place for grocery and pharmacy needs, many mom-and-pop pharmacies were forced to close, long before the pandemic. This trend of pharmacy closures is really hitting hard now that Americans in all parts of the country are trying to get a vaccination.

This lack of health care in some areas of the country leads to a disparity in treatments for people, depending on their zip code. Although many rural citizens are used to going farther to get basic needs like groceries or haircuts, when it comes to a life and death vaccine, the distance could have dire consequences.

Inequity of Vaccinations

There is a spotlight on the lack of pharmacies at the moment, as President Joe Biden has said that America will have enough vaccines to inoculate every adult by the end of May, and the federal government has partnered with pharmacies inside grocery stores and other free-standing locations to ensure access to all those who need a vaccine.

According to reports, “More than 40,000 stores are expected to take part, and the Biden administration has said that nearly 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of one.” Although this sounds like a robust plan that is destined for success, unfortunately, this seemingly good news does not tell the whole story.

There are definitely gaps in the coverage map, and for the 10% of Americans who do not live within 5 miles of a pharmacy, getting vaccinated is proving more difficult. Obviously rural counties have less access to stores and pharmacies are part of the problem.

“More than 400 rural counties with a combined population of nearly 2.5 million people lack a retail pharmacy that’s included in the partnership. More than 100 of those counties either have no pharmacy or have a pharmacy that historically did not offer services such as flu shots and possibly lacks the equipment or certified staff to vaccinate customers.” For those who want or need a vaccination, the lack of access keeps vulnerable citizens from easily getting vaccinated.

The news is dire for rural areas, even for medical professionals who really should be vaccinated. According to the National Rural Health Association,” 40% of all rural hospitals in Texas still say they have no access to any of the shots.” Experts think part of this disparity stems from the previous administration who left everything about the pandemic up to the states. Now states are calling for more transparency from the government, so they know where they stand.

By working hard to create pop-up pharmacies and give all citizens, even in the rural corners of the country, access to health care and pharmacies, America will move more quickly to a country that is not overrun by the pandemic. With Joe Biden’s pledge to vaccinate every adult by the end of May, this is a part of the puzzle that needs to be looked at carefully.