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How dollar stores could provide a shot in the arm for the U.S.'s COVID vaccination drive

By Eleanor Laise

Research suggests Dollar General and Dollar Tree could be keys to more equitable vaccine distribution

Dollar stores could be powerful allies in the federal government's effort to equitably distribute COVID-19 vaccines, new research suggests.

Administering COVID shots at stores operated by Dollar General Corp. (DG) or Dollar Tree Inc. (DLTR) would bring vaccination sites within one mile of more than 60% of low-income households in the continental U.S. and could also help to address racial and ethnic disparities in vaccine distribution, according to a preprint study (link) by researchers at Yale University.

Breaking: Pfizer asks FDA to expand COVID-19 vaccine authorization to include 12- to 15-year-olds (link)

Less than half of low-income households are within a mile of the retail pharmacy locations that have thus far partnered with the federal government to distribute vaccines, the study found.

"The dollar stores are where other things aren't. That's kind of their business model," says Judith Chevalier, a professor of finance and economics at Yale School of Management and co-author of the study. "They're really well located for this purpose" of distributing vaccines in underserved areas.

See:Biden administration surging tests and vaccinators to Michigan, where COVID transmission rate is nation's worst (link)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month signaled interest in a dollar-store partnership. "We're exploring a promising collaboration with Dollar General stores, which have locations that include refrigeration capacity within 10 or 15 miles of our rural communities in all but four states," CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said March 9 at a Health Action Alliance conference.

Dollar General said in a statement on Friday that it "continues to have constructive conversations" with various private and government organizations about supporting vaccine efforts and that "specific details regarding these efforts will be provided once finalized."

The CDC and Dollar Tree, which also operates Family Dollar stores (link), did not respond to requests for comment.

The Biden administration has emphasized equity along with speed in its vaccine-distribution strategy. The White House announced this week (link) the expansion of COVID vaccine access at federally qualified community health centers, which are often located in underserved communities. Walensky in her speech last month also pointed to Walmart's (WMT) role in equitable vaccine distribution, noting that the company has more than 5,000 pharmacy locations, many of them in medically underserved areas.

Yet hurdles remain for many Americans. The most vulnerable communities as measured by the CDC's Social Vulnerability Index, which weighs factors such as poverty and vehicle access, have the smallest share of federal retail pharmacy partnership locations, the Yale study found. And Black and Hispanic people have received a relatively small share of vaccinations compared with their share of COVID cases and deaths and their representation in the total population, according to a recent analysis (link) by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Factors behind those gaps may include more limited transportation and resources to navigate online appointment scheduling as well as less flexibility in work schedules and other challenges, says Samantha Artiga, a vice president at the foundation.

Adding dollar stores to the mix could help the administration far surpass its goal of putting vaccination sites within five miles of 90% of U.S. adults, the Yale researchers found. Currently, about 86% of U.S. adults live within five miles of a federal retail pharmacy partner location, although not all locations within partner chains are offering vaccines, the researchers note. Adding Dollar General stores as vaccination sites would raise that level beyond 94%, the study found. Dollar General had more than 17,000 stores as of January, with a net gain of nearly 900 stores over the past year.

But "the devil is in the details," says Angela Shen, visiting research scientist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Vaccine Education Center. Unlike pharmacies, dollar stores don't have the facilities and trained employees to administer vaccines, so these sites could operate more like mobile clinics or pop-up vaccination sites in parking lots, public health experts say. And proximity to a vaccine site alone won't topple all potential barriers, such as mobility issues, having time off work for an appointment, and vaccine hesitancy, Shen says.

Beyond the pandemic, some researchers see broader public health possibilities for dollar stores. Flu vaccination rates, for example, tend to increase with income. So if COVID vaccination works at dollar stores, Chevalier says, public health officials could weigh delivering flu shots at those same locations.

Read on:Global COVID-19 case tally above 134 million as more countries impose restrictions on AstraZeneca vaccine (link)

-Eleanor Laise; 415-439-6400;


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

04-09-21 1442ET

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