WOONSOCKET, R.I. —CVS Health is adopting a community-based strategy to address potential inequities related to COVID-19 vaccine access in vulnerable communities, with a particular focus on Black and Hispanic populations, the company said Friday. The strategy includes proactive patient outreach, community-based partnerships and vaccine clinics, and robust, education-focused marketing, all aimed at increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates.
“We are committed to reaching people of color and underserved communities to ensure health equity as we work to vaccinate all Americans,” said Karen Lynch, president and CEO, CVS Health. “Our presence in communities across the country uniquely positions CVS Health to educate vulnerable populations and connect them with vaccine administration services.”
There are nearly 10,000 CVS Pharmacy locations nationwide, with almost half located in communities ranked high or very high by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Social Vulnerability Index (SVI). High SVI rank, along with population density and area demographics, are critical factors CVS Health is using to prioritize the CVS Pharmacy locations that are offering appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations. Beginning last week, select CVS Pharmacy locations in 11 states began offering vaccinations to eligible populations as part of the federal pharmacy partnership program. As more supply becomes available, the company will continue to prioritize these measures as it expands to additional states, while increasing the number of stores offering vaccinations.
Helping to ensure equitable access
In communities where COVID-19 vaccines are currently available at CVS Pharmacy locations, the company is working to help ensure Black and Hispanic patients have equitable access to appointments. CVS Health will reach out to CVS Pharmacy patients, Aetna members, and CVS Caremark members in vulnerable communities to help them make an appointment and to answer questions or concerns they may have about being vaccinated.
Additionally, CVS Health is working with its extensive network of community-based leaders and nonprofit organizations, including free and charitable clinics, faith-based organizations and others, to reach these vulnerable patients and help them make an appointment. The company is also working with these nonprofits to distribute educational information on COVID-19 vaccines and underscore the importance of getting vaccinated.
Community-based vaccination sites with access from Lyft
To further increase access to vaccines, the company is planning to use mobile vaccination vans and launch community-based clinics in March and April, working closely with nonprofit organizations including the YMCA.
“Throughout the pandemic, the Y has worked to meet the needs of the 10,000 communities we serve across the United States,” said Kevin Washington, president and CEO, YMCA of the USA. “We are proud to team up with CVS Health as part of our efforts to help ensure everyone has equitable access to accurate information about the vaccines and to the vaccines themselves, especially communities of color, which have been disproportionately affected by the health and economic impacts of the virus.”
Lyft will work with CVS Health and non-profit partners to help underserved communities access vaccination appointments by providing free or discounted rides for those in need. Lyft’s universal vaccine access campaign is a partnership of companies, community organizations and individuals working together to make sure everyone has access to affordable, reliable transportation to get to vaccination appointments when they need to.
“Forty-six percent of Lyft rides start or stop in low-income communities,” said John Zimmer, cofounder and president, Lyft. “The combined strength of CVS Health and Lyft, with our ability to reach vulnerable communities, enables us to support equitable vaccine access in communities that need it most. Now more than ever, equity matters.”
Education from trusted sources
Building on these efforts, CVS Health will also conduct outreach to patients in vulnerable communities over the coming weeks and months with text messages and emails featuring messages from pharmacists to encourage vaccination and address hesitancy.
“More than 40 percent of our pharmacists and more than 50 percent of our pharmacy technicians identify as non-white, and they are important voices in helping people understand the safety and efficacy of the vaccine,” said Neela Montgomery, president, CVS Pharmacy.
Reaching the widest audience possible
CVS Health has also joined the Ad Council’s COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative as a Founding Partner. This extensive communications effort will educate the public about the importance of, and work to build confidence in, COVID-19 vaccines with the goal of increasing vaccination uptake, particularly among Black and Hispanic audiences.
CVS Health will supplement this collaborative effort with a significant CVS Pharmacy marketing campaign focused on reaching vulnerable communities with educational information. With content available in both English and Spanish, components of the campaign are designed to reach specific audiences, including leveraging CVS Health’s role as a Founding Partner of the Black Information Network.
“We recently published new data showing 35 percent of Black survey participants do not plan on receiving a vaccine when it is first available, which is up nearly 10 percent from our November survey,” said Dr. Sree Chaguturu, senior vice president, CVS Health and Chief Medical Officer, CVS Caremark. “These data underscore the importance of our commitment to monitor equity in vaccine distribution and help support education and access.”