On February 9, the Biden administration announced the establishment of the Federally Qualified Health Center program, through which the federal government will directly provide vaccines to federally funded community health centers that serve vulnerable communities.
Starting the week of February 15, the federal government will allocate one million doses across 250 community health centers. The administration has confirmed that doses sent to these centers are in addition to those already allocated to states, and vaccines would become available to additional community health centers as the program expands.
Counties play key a role in operating the more than 1,300 Community Health Centers that serve about 30 million people, the majority of whom live at or below the poverty line. In the program’s initial phase, the administration targeted community health centers with a significant number of patients who experience homelessness, are agricultural migrant workers, are residents of public housing or have limited English proficiency.
The announcement of the Federally Qualified Health Center program came one day before the Biden administration appointed 12 members to the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which was established through an Executive Order signed on January 21. The Task Force was formed with the goal of developing recommendations for addressing health inequities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing future inequities.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who was appointed chair of the Task Force by President Biden in December, will also ask for representation on the Task Force from federal agencies that include the Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice and Department of Labor.
Counties have been on the ground leading the both local COVID-19 mitigation efforts as well as the vaccine implementation process, and they are uniquely positioned to meet the health needs of their vulnerable residents. The announcement of the COVID-19 Task Force and the Federally Qualified Health Center program represent paralleled efforts by the Biden administration to address inequities in COVID-19 mitigation and vaccination efforts. Federal efforts to address equity align with the county priority of ensuring that residents who are medically, geographically, and demographically disadvantaged have access to needed COVID-19 treatment and vaccinations.