Pharmacists Must Ensure Race/Ethnicity Reporting for COVID-19 Vaccinations

As COVID-19 vaccinations increased in the United States, one challenge is making sure that vulnerable populations are being immunized. Part of the problem is that only about half of vaccination records so far include information on race of race and ethnicity. Find out why the American Pharmacists Association has joined with other healthcare groups to urge extra effort to gather that data.

WASHINGTON, DC – A lack of information on race and ethnicity data is making it difficult to determine if groups most at risk of COVID-19 are receiving the vaccine.

The American Pharmacists Association joined two other leading national health care advocacy organizations – the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association -- to urge urged all health care professionals to make extra effort to collect and report race and ethnicity data when administering COVID-19 vaccinations. 

The groups suggest that improved data collection would help ensure access to vaccines in vulnerable populations and improve confidence. “Race and ethnicity data provides critical information to clinicians, health care organizations, public health agencies and policymakers, allowing them to equitably allocate resources across all communities, evaluate health outcomes and improve quality of care and delivery of public health services,” their open letter states.

The letter points out that data from the first month of the vaccine roll out had missing information on race and ethnicity in almost half of records reported to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “While there are some barriers and challenges to collecting race and ethnicity data, health care professionals are critical in asking for the data due to the trust patients have in our work,” the healthcare organizations emphasize. “We encourage clinicians to share with patients in a transparent and culturally sensitive manner why collecting race and ethnicity information can help improve the health of their families and communities. These actions reinforce our commitment to high-quality equitable care.” 

The letter further states, “Systemic racism and routine exposures to discrimination within our health care system have produced an environment in which Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Indigenous communities have historically been underserved by and do not always trust our existing health care infrastructure. The CDC and other researchers have determined that these long-standing injustices have unfairly and disproportionately impacted racial and ethnic populations, putting them at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.”

In a press release last month, National Community Pharmacist Association CEO Douglas Hoey, MBA, suggests that one remedy might be to increase vaccine supply to independent local pharmacies. He advises that those drugstores are uniquely positioned to deliver vaccines to hard-to-reach communities.

“Community pharmacists are essential health care providers. More importantly, they are already positioned to deliver the vaccine. It’s a ready-made health care infrastructure that federal and state health officials should be using to accelerate the vaccine program,” Hoey said.

He points out that 56.8% percent of independent pharmacies that immunize serve communities that rank “high” or “very high” on the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index, which measures factors such as poverty, lack of transportation, and crowded housing to identify communities that need extra support during public crises.

In an NCPA press release, Hoey makes the argument that local community pharmacies are critical both in rural areas, where public transportation and few health care providers are unavailable, and in urban neighborhoods where poverty rates are high and immigrant communities must often overcome language barriers.

“Independent pharmacists are located in communities of all population sizes including rural communities, urban neighborhoods, and immigrant communities that are harder to reach,” Hoey stated. “The quickest and most effective way to distribute the vaccines in those communities is to rely on the pharmacists who know them best.

“Independent pharmacists are a part of the communities they serve. They speak the local language, they understand the local culture, and they have roots in the local neighborhoods. There’s a high level of commitment on their part, and a high level of trust among their patients. That’s exactly what we need right now to bring the vaccine to these communities.”

The problem, he explains, is that most community pharmacies have more demand than supply.

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