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In Rural America, a 'Vaccine Void'

In America's 'pharmacy deserts,' it's a challenge for residents to get their shots
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 6, 2021 8:30 AM CST

(Newser) – When Charlome Pierce searched where her 96-year-old father could get a COVID vaccine in January, she found zero options anywhere near their home in Virginia. The lone medical clinic in Surry County had none, and the last pharmacy in an area with roughly 6,500 residents closed years ago. To get their shots, some residents took a ferry across the James River to cities such as Williamsburg. Others drove more than an hour to reach a medical facility offering the vaccine. At one point, Pierce heard about a state-run vaccination event 45 minutes away—but no more appointments were available, with a wait there reportedly lasting up to seven hours. As the nation's campaign against the coronavirus moves from mass inoculation sites to drugstores and doctors' offices, getting vaccinated remains a challenge for residents of "pharmacy deserts," communities without pharmacies or well-equipped health clinics, leaving a "vaccine void," per the AP.

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To improve access, the federal government has partnered with 21 companies that run free-standing pharmacies or pharmacy services inside grocery stores and other locations. 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. But there are gaps in the map: 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. Challenges to obtaining a vaccine shot near home aren't limited to rural areas, either: There's a relative dearth of medical facilities in some urban areas, particularly for Black Americans, per a study. Pierce, who did secure a vaccine for her dad at a February clinic at a high school in Dendron, says where people live shouldn't place them at a disadvantage. "You shouldn't be marginalized by your zip code," she says. Much more here.

(Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)

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