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Public Health
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Hundreds Of Rural Counties Lack The Retail Pharmacies Helping To Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines

A color coded US map highlighting different rural areas that do not have pharmacies designated to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis
The map above displays pharmacy vaccination service availability in nonmetropolitan counties from a RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis study.

When the COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will partner with retail pharmacies such as Costco and Walgreen to help distribute them. But a new analysis of rural counties finds that as many as 750 counties don't have one of those pharmacies.

Fred Ullrich researches rural health policy at the University of Iowa and helped write the report, which was published in December by the RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis. "Rural pharmacies are in decline and have been for some time," Ullrich said.

Initially, Ullrich was focusing on all the services pharmacists provide, medication management in particular. But then the pandemic hit.

“There's been this sort of collision of interest in the last couple of months of, ‘Oh, pharmacies and COVID – this is an interesting topic now,’ ” he said.

So his team looked at which rural counties actually had one of the designated pharmacies and discovered that many do not.

“While the majority of nonmetropolitan counties have two or more eligible pharmacies, 110 counties have no eligible pharmacy,” the analysis found. “If only pharmacies affiliated with one of the 19 HHS partnership chains/networks are considered, the number of counties without an eligible pharmacy increases to 750.”

And some counties – especially in the Mountain West – are huge.

“Even if there's a pharmacy in a county, that doesn't necessarily mean you're very close to a pharmacy,” Ullrich said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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