One year ago the world as we knew it ground to a halt. It has been a year of staggering tragedies, with more than 540,000 deaths. We are not the same. Last March, Community Health Centers prepared to fight the unknown with essentially one hand behind their back, unaware of the heavy price the pandemic would exact on their patients, staff, board members, their families and friends. There were no COVID tests, limited supplies of protective gear and N95 masks, and looming funding cuts that threatened to shut their doors.
Today, we are hopeful. We are resilient. Health centers have not only survived a global crisis but stand as part of the solution to resolving it, ensuring equity in hard-to-reach communities. They are tasked with using their mission, their skills, their nimble adaptability, and their longstanding trust to bring COVID vaccines to underserved communities.
“We need to bring vaccines to people where they are, which is why Community Health Centers are so important,” explained Jeffrey Zients, the White House Coronavirus Coordinator recently on NBC’s Meet The Press. “They serve over 30 million Americans. Two-thirds of those that use community health centers live below the poverty line. Sixty percent come from communities of color. That’s why the president established a program to send vaccines directly to Community Health Centers.”
It’s working. A new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that health centers are vaccinating those who disproportionately bore the worst of the pandemic.
More than half of those who received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine through a health center were people of color, an indication that health centers appear to be doing a better job of reaching people of color than are overall vaccination efforts. People of color accounted for 54 percent of those who received their first dose of the vaccine through a health center, including 26 percent who were Hispanic and 12 percent who were Black.
These health center vaccination efforts are now getting a boost in resources from Congress, which this week passed the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, known as the American Rescue Plan. The legislation, which President Biden signed today, includes $7.6 billion in flexible emergency COVID-19 funding for Community Health Centers (see NACHC press release). The package will help spur more shots in the arms across the country, now that health centers are receiving direct allocations of the COVID vaccines.
In addition to the 250 health centers receiving direct access to the vaccines, the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have invited an additional 700 health centers to participate. These 700 health centers will have the opportunity to join the program over the next 6 weeks, increasing the total number of health center participants to 950. To learn more, please visit this link.
We still don’t know when this pandemic will officially end — but there is light at the end of the tunnel and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be writing about something else one year from now.
Photo courtesy of CCI Health & Wellness Services, Silver Spring, MD.