Addressing health inequity: A critical step towards a successful national vaccine rollout strategy
By Nissa Shaffi, NCL Associate Director of Health Policy
The COVID-19 vaccines have provided much needed doses of hope as consumers eagerly wait for their shots. However — due to competing pressures of managing inadequate supplies, complex state-managed distribution plans, emerging viral variants, and unaddressed health disparities — the national vaccine rollout has fallen short of its intended goals.
To date, more than 40 million have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 16+ million people are currently fully-vaccinated. On average, providers around the country are administering 1.6 million doses per day. According to experts, 70 to 90 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated if we are to achieve herd immunity and return to normal everyday activities.
The delays in the vaccine rollout have been attributed to variations among states and territories, which have been expected to set their own distribution plans and eligibility criteria. All states have made the vaccine available for healthcare workers, and nearly 43 states and the District of Columbia have expanded their eligibility to include occupation-based vaccination programs. These include members of the non-medical essential workforce, like grocery store employees and police officers.
While vaccine hesitancy among some Americans remains a problem, it’s becoming less of a concern as more and more people are getting vaccinated. COVID-19 has further exposed both vulnerabilities in our infrastructure and social determinants of health — conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect their overall health — that threaten to impede access. Throughout the rollout, vulnerable communities have experienced barriers in booking vaccine appointments due to limited access to broadband, phones, and accessible, affordable transportation.
Vaccine hesitancy and social determinants of health remain the primary obstacles in the rollout process. Going forward, addressing health disparities will be a critical strategy in realizing a successful national response, because — without health equity — the virus will continue to ravage the most vulnerable communities. The National Consumers League supports comprehensive strategies to address the glaring disparities in health and access that COVID-19 has exposed.