CVS Health plans to contact Americans living in underserved communities to help them schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments amid signs that white people are getting the free vaccine at higher rates than Black Americans.
The drugstore chain said Friday that it will call, email and text-message people living in what the federal government has deemed socially vulnerable areas to provide assistance and education in the vaccine process.
The move also comes as reports circulate widely that Americans are struggling to navigate various scheduling systems, website crashes and a sluggish rollout of the two vaccines approved so far.
CVS also said it will hold vaccine clinics in the most vulnerable communities it serves and send vaccination caravans into neighborhoods to make it easier for people to get their shots.
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Research published in 2020 concluded that about 34% of COVID-19 deaths in the period studied were Black people, though they make up only 12% of the American population.
CVS said its internal data indicates that 35% of Black Americans do not plan to get vaccinated when they’re first able to do so.
With nearly 10,000 locations, including almost half located in communities ranked “high or very high” on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index, CVS is expected to play a significant role in the nationwide rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. The company has said its 90,000 clinicians can administer 25 million per month. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans live within five miles of a CVS.
“Recognizing that there is increased hesitancy among communities of color, it was really important for us to address this through a multi-pronged strategy of vaccine education, access and equity,” CVS Care Chief Medical Officer Sree Chaguturu said in an interview with USA TODAY.
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Last week, CVS began scheduling appointments for people at 350 stores across 11 states: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. The retailer will eventually expand access to all of its stores but is currently limited to states where the federal government is providing vaccines for it to administer, just as other pharmacy chains are currently limited as well.
Chaguturu declined to say how many people CVS hopes to reach out to or how many clinics it plans to conduct outside of its stores.
Chaguturu said CVS call center workers will help people set up appointments over the phone or guide them through the digital scheduling system.
CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Kroger and many other major retailers with pharmacies began administering COVID-19 vaccines a week ago after receiving their first vaccines for retail distribution.
In addition to its own communication efforts to contact people in underserved communities, CVS is also coordinating an outreach effort with community leaders and nonprofits, including faith-based groups. Some clinics will be conducted at YMCA facilities.
“We are proud to team up with CVS Health as part of our efforts to help ensure everyone has equitable access to accurate information about the vaccines and to the vaccines themselves, especially communities of color, which have been disproportionately affected by the health and economic impacts of the virus,” YMCA of the USA CEO Kevin Washington said in a statement.
CVS said more than 4 in 10 of its pharmacists and more than half of its pharmacy technicians are people of color.
But health experts say Black Americans and other people of color are most vulnerable to COVID-19 due to various factors, including the fact that they are more likely to work jobs that require them to interact with others.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.