HHS to invest over $6 billion in Community Health Centers to improve vaccine access

The Biden administration announced on Thursday a $6 billion investment in Community Health Centers to expand access to COVID-19 vaccinations, treatment, and testing. The money, which comes from the recently-passed American Rescue Plan Act, will be used to specifically target vulnerable, under-served populations.

According to data from the White House, Community Health Centers (CHCs) serve about 20% of individuals living in rural counties. More than 91% of CHC patients live at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level and over 60% of patients are racial or ethnic minorities.

 

 

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will begin providing funding in April to almost 1,400 health centers across the United States. California is set to receive the most funding with over $992 million for 175 health centers. A breakdown of state awards is available here.

Improving access to testing, treatment, and vaccinations for all racial and ethnic groups was identified as a crucial component to containing the virus in a recent issue brief from the US Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS). In the brief, the Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) outlined a series of potential policy solutions to improve disparities related to the pandemic.

ASPE’s policy solutions include improved data collection, consideration of the intersection between people of color and chronic conditions, and a focus on equitable access to testing and vaccination supplies.

“Leveraging partnerships and supporting state, Tribal, and local and territorial efforts to increase access to COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination, as well as personal protective equipment, can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and address the impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic communities at high risk for adverse outcomes.”

The Biden administration also announced on Thursday a $3 billion investment to improve vaccine confidence. Funding will go to local health departments and community-based organizations to launch initiatives to increase vaccine acceptance, uptake, and access. The money will specifically target areas hit hardest by the pandemic.

The ASPE brief says disparities in vaccinations are driven by numerous factors including a lack of information about vaccine availability, transportation inequities, and doubts about vaccine safety. To address this, the report states:

“Delivering culturally appropriate and linguistically tailored services, including through utilization of community health workers and community-based organizations, can help address health disparities by correcting misinformation and connecting patients with care providers who help them feel comfortable and engaged in their care”

According to the White House, examples of how the $3 billion in funding could be used include: conducting door-to-door outreach to schedule vaccination appointments, ensuring transportation to vaccination sites, or providing culturally-competent bilingual health outreach.

The awards for this funding have not yet been announced but are expected in early April.