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Pitt Study Finds That Many Black Americans Live Farther From Vaccine Sites Than Whites

University of Pittsburgh School of Health Sciences, West Health Policy Center
Map of where Black Americans face higher risk of live farther from a potential vaccine site.

New analysis from University of Pittsburgh researchers finds that in many parts of the country, Black people are less likely than white people to live near a facility that can administer the COVID-19 vaccine.

This is concerning as Black Americans are more likely than whites to contract the coronavirus, and they also face greater barriers to accessing medical care—including finding transportation to medical facilities, such as community health clinics, hospitals and pharmacies.

“Because maybe [there’s] not the best public transportation infrastructure, and also because they are less likely to own vehicles than white residents,” said senior author Inma Hernandez, an assistant professor of Pharmacy and Therapeutics at Pitt's School of Pharmacy.

Hernandez and her collaborators, which include researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based West Health Policy Center, used a supercomputer to compare U.S. Census Bureau data of where people live to nearly 70,000 potential COVID-19 vaccine administration facilities. 

“For each single person, we figured out with the computer what’s the [fastest] way to get [to a potential vaccine site,] to the point we even know in the data whether the person would have to leave the house to the left or to the right,” she said. “It really is specific.”

The analysis found that in many parts of the country, Black Americans are more likely than whites to reside more than one mile from a potential vaccination site. This disparity tends to be greater in cities with large Black populations, such as Atlanta, New Orleans and Detroit.

“It is the testimony of the historical ongoing disparities in access to health care that have existed for many years,” said Hernandez. “Now we’re trying to bring attention once again because we’re trying to do this [COVID-19 vaccine] rollout where equity, I think, is of the essence.”

The data researchers analyzed was then used to create an open-access interactive map. The aim is for public health agencies to use the map to identify areas that need more concentrated resources for vaccine distribution.  The study did not factor in places like sports stadiums or conference centers, which have been mentioned as potential sites for mass vaccination clinics.

“The whole point was that we wanted to figure out where those extra resources need to be set up,” said Hernandez. “We’re showing that maybe … extra resources, or what they call, those nonconventional vaccine administration locations, needs to be set up in the Black neighborhoods so that those folks also have equitable access.”

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