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Shots into EVERY arm

June 03, 2021 | Pharmacy

A medical worker, wearing PPE, offers two thumbs up to a young girl sitting in her father's lap.

Brenda Murphy, 81, who lives in one of Baltimore’s poorest ZIP codes, was never really hesitant to be vaccinated against COVID-19. “People around me kept getting sick and it wasn’t getting better. And I am not ready to go,” she says.

But Brenda lacked access to a local vaccination site. In underserved communities, vaccine barriers can include a lack of transportation, time-off work, education, a digital divide and historical mistrust in the health care system.

During the pandemic, the country’s most vulnerable neighborhoods — which include high proportions of communities of color — had higher rates of COVID-19 sicknesses and deaths.

A recent study shows the communities hit hardest by the virus also lack access to lifesaving vaccines.

A CVS branded van works as a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic to make vaccines more accessible.
Pharmacist Emmanuel Olivares and Pharmacy Technician Jenny Gonzalez operate from a CVS mobile van, making COVID-19 vaccinations more accessible.

That’s not a coincidence, says Heather Wilson, VP, Operations of the Y in Central Maryland. She says communities of color don’t suffer more from COVID-19 because of race, but because of structural racism that impacts economic well-being.

“The number one reason that there are health disparities is because of income,” she says.

Because ZIP codes matter, getting a shot into every arm is a ground game that requires meeting people where they live, says David Casey, CVS Health Chief Diversity Officer and SVP of workforce strategies.

“It’s not just about getting the vaccine into the community, but also about making sure that we understand and work to eliminate barriers so that individuals can get vaccinated in a way that works for them,” David Casey says.
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David Casey, SVP, Chief Diversity Officer, CVS Health
David Casey, SVP, Chief Diversity Officer, CVS Health

That’s why CVS Health has reached beyond the pharmacy counter to partner with local community organizations, free health clinics, community colleges and faith-based organizations to make vaccination access easier. Outreach includes dialogue to help understand local needs before offering solutions. In Miami, for example, vaccine education is provided in Haitian Creole, as well as English and Spanish.

Just as important is having vaccinators who look like those they’re serving, David adds. “It is absolutely critical for community members to have trusted faces in trusted spaces when they get vaccinated.”

CVS Health also partnered with Lyft earlier this year to provide free or discounted rides to appointments.

So far, the targeted vaccine outreach is working; As of May, over 60% of U.S. adults have had their first dose — and more people of color are getting vaccinated.


While encouraging news, vaccine equity depends on continuing to break down barriers. It’s a commitment that CVS Health is making.