Newswise — WASHINGTON and NEW YORK (Dec. 3, 2020) – Nearly half of all patients served by community health centers (CHCs) qualify for phase one COVID-19 immunizations under priority guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a new analysis produced by researchers at the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH).
The researchers found that among the 29.8 million people served by CHCs in 2019, an estimated 14.1 million adult health center patients - who account for 47 percent of all patients served - could be expected to qualify for phase one priority vaccination because their advanced age or underlying health conditions put them at higher risk. These 14.1 million CHC patients will require 28.2 million vaccine doses in order to protect them from COVID-19, according to the analysis.
The results of this analysis, which uses data on health center patients to examine the health status of the most medically underserved Americans, reflect the role of community health centers in serving patients in high-need rural and urban communities. It is these communities whose populations are at the most elevated risk for underlying chronic health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Such patients face especially serious threat from COVID-19 in terms of serious illness, long-term disability and death.
“The initial federal guidance will focus on health care workers and long term institutional residents, but soon the vaccine will be ready to move into the general population. Basic principles of equity and justice compel a national immunization strategy that focuses on these communities while ensuring that providers such as community health centers receive an appropriate supply of vaccine as well as the resources needed to enable their patients to gain access to immunizations at the earliest possible point,” Sara Rosenbaum, JD, a study co-author and the Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy at Milken Institute SPH, said.
The analysis utilized federally reported data and the methodology was based on guidelines from the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to determine the proportion of high-need health center patients. According to ACIP guidelines, COVID-19 vaccinations would be distributed first to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities and then to other non-healthcare essential workers. Next in line would be people age 65 and older and non-elderly adults with serious medical conditions and health risks including obesity, diabetes, cancer and smoking. Over time, as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available, others will become eligible for the vaccine to get protection from the virus.
Over all phases of vaccine distribution, the entire community health center population, which totaled 29.8 million patients in 2019, would need nearly 60 million vaccine doses in order to shield them from COVID-19, according to the analysis. Eighteen states would need at least one million doses to fully vaccinate health center patients; California health center patients alone will need more than 10 million doses, the researchers say.
Health centers are uniquely positioned to reach deeply impoverished, disproportionately minority populations that face elevated health risks for COVID-19. Community health centers are often a trusted source of primary health care in isolated rural or urban communities. Because of their deep roots in the community, health center clinicians are well positioned to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy concerns in populations that may not trust the medical establishment, the researchers said. In addition to the estimates, the authors summarize discussions held with Primary Care Association leadership representing 19 states and one U.S. territory to gain a greater understanding of health centers’ significant role in immunization.
“Targeting the highest-risk people and communities for COVID-19 vaccines and ensuring that they are effectively reached is a national public health priority, making community health centers absolutely essential to a successful vaccine strategy,” Feygele Jacobs, DrPH, president and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation, whose ongoing gift supports the Geiger Gibson Program, said.
The analysis, “Nearly Half of Community Health Center Patients – an Estimated 14.1 Million of 29.8 Million People Served – Qualify for Phase One COVID-19 Vaccinations Because They Fall within the CDC’s Highest Risk Categories,” was published December 3 by the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative.
The Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy, established in 2003 and named after human rights and health center pioneers Drs. H. Jack Geiger and Count Gibson, is part of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University.
The RCHN Community Health Foundation is the only foundation in the U.S. dedicated solely to community health centers. The Foundation’s gift to the Geiger Gibson program supports health center research and scholarship.
The Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University is the only school of public health in the nation’s capital.