(CNN) — The Biden administration will send some of the Covid-19 vaccine supply directly to community health centers starting next week as part of an effort to reach underserved areas, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients announced Tuesday.
“Community health centers are an important part of our broader strategy to ensure we are reaching everyone with our response,” Zients said during a White House briefing.
The announcement comes as the White House continues to emphasize its efforts to distribute Covid-19 vaccines in an equitable manner across the country and ensure that vulnerable populations who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic have access to the vaccines as well as medical care.
“Equity is our North Star here,” Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who leads the Biden administration’s equity task force, said in the briefing. “This effort that focuses on direct allocation to the community health centers really is about connecting with those hard-to-reach populations across the country.”
The Community Health Center Vaccination Program will also work to build vaccine confidence, Zients said. The centers will be equipped to do outreach needed to help patients schedule appointments. The program will partner with local leaders to ensure equity in vaccine distribution.
Zients also announced Tuesday that the Biden administration would increase overall weekly vaccine supply to 11 million doses nationwide beginning this week.
Last week, the Biden administration said it would begin direct shipments of coronavirus vaccines to retail pharmacies to expand points of access to the vaccine.
Community health centers treat some of the most vulnerable Americans, many of whom are at risk for severe Covid-19. Homeless people, migrant workers, residents of public housing and people with limited English proficiency are all among the patient population. There are more than 213,100 community health centers in every state and territory in the US that serve more than 30 million people.
About two-thirds of patients at community health center live at or below the federal poverty line and 60% identify as racial or ethnic minorities.
In the initial phase of the program, Nunez-Smith said doses will reach 250 health centers. The plan includes at least one community health center in each state and territory. The goal is to allocate 1 million doses in this first phase.
The federal program, Nunez-Smith added, is meant to aid state and local leaders. The community health center program and others “are in no way a substitute for the important work that they must lead on the ground to address equity,” Nunez-Smith said.
Zients during the briefing dismissed the idea that an emphasis on equity in vaccine deployment is sacrificing efficiency amid the time-sensitive race to reach herd immunity.
“I don’t accept that premise at all,” Zients said when pressed on whether the country would need to accept that speed would be lost for the sake of equity.
“I think we can do this in a fair, equitable, and efficient way. And I think today’s announcement about utilizing the community health centers is part of a multi-pronged strategy to reach all American,” he said. “So efficiency and equity are both central to what we’re doing. And I don’t see any trade-off between the two — I think they go hand in glove.”
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