Why COVID-19 vaccine equity matters and what we're doing to help
Author: Kim A. Keck
For the past year, our communities have grappled with a historic pandemic and the tragic loss of too many lives—more than half a million in the U.S. alone. The disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations and people and communities of color is stark: Nationwide, Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at a rate 1.6-times higher than white Americans. For Native Americans, this rate is twice that of white Americans. We must take action to end the COVID-19 pandemic—and to address the twin pandemic of long-standing social structures and discrimination that have systematically harmed the health of generations of Americans. We must make sure no one is left behind.
Taking action toward equity
Today, Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies are proud to announce that we are joining an industrywide effort, the Vaccine Community Connectors pilot, aimed at vaccinating two million seniors. As supplies grow and become available, the pilot will focus on those 65 and older living in the most vulnerable communities, addressing barriers to equitable healthcare across the country.
BCBS companies will use our data capabilities and insights—and our deep connections serving local communities and members—to help identify seniors who are vulnerable to COVID-19 and who live in areas where vaccination rates are most inequitable. We’ll work with partners to educate seniors on the safety, efficacy and value of COVID-19 vaccines, and we’ll reach out to those eligible to get a vaccine and help them with scheduling, reminders and other services, like transportation. Importantly, we’ll track progress to make sure the people who need vaccines the most are getting them.
Vaccination is our most powerful tool to stop the spread of COVID-19. Up to 85% of adults need the vaccine to stop the virus from spreading. We must accelerate the rollout of vaccinations, and we have to do it in a way that is equitable and culturally sensitive. That starts in communities that have too long been overlooked and underserved.
Supporting vaccination efforts
Nationwide, BCBS companies have invested more than $7 billion in COVID-19 relief to date—and our work continues. We’re pleased to participate in the Vaccine Community Connectors program because it builds on work the Blues are already doing across the country to assist COVID-19 vaccination efforts:
- Providing administrative support – Utilizing strong partnerships with state and local governments, BCBS companies are facilitating member identification, outreach and scheduling for those who are vaccine-eligible.
- Encouraging volunteerism – BCBS companies are helping staff community vaccination efforts by offering hundreds of clinical and non-clinical employee volunteers, who are helping organize and distribute vaccines.
- Improving access – Access to vaccination sites—particularly in the midst of a pandemic—is a barrier for many who are eligible. Several BCBS companies are tackling this challenge head-on by partnering with other corporations to provide over 60 million rides to vaccination sites.
- Standing up vaccination sites – BCBS companies are working with state and local officials to identify and assist at vaccine administration sites of every size. Some are launching mass-vaccination sites in their communities with the capability to vaccinate thousands of individuals a day.
- Launching safety and efficacy campaigns – At a time when disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines could make some less confident about getting a shot, BCBS companies are serving as trusted sources of information—particularly for those with historically-rooted and well-founded mistrust in the medical community.
Stopping the spread
As a country, this pandemic has exposed our weak spots: painful inequality, the need for lasting social change, health system inefficiencies and many social divides. At the same time, it has affirmed our spirit, inspired ingenuity, unleashed unprecedented cooperation and rekindled a great appreciation for the many things we once took for granted. It’s been a very long year, but there is light ahead. By taking these steps to support vaccinations for those who need them the most, we are better positioned today than ever before to bring an end to the COVID-19 crisis—and to build a more equitable healthcare system.
Learn more about the Blue Cross Blue Shield response to COVID-19.
About the BlueCross BlueShield Association
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 35 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide health care coverage for one in three Americans.