COVID-19 Vaccines Can Now Be Distributed at All Community Health Centers

Close up of a sign that says "COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic by appointment only for eligible individuals" with blurred people giving/receiving vaccines in the background.

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Key Takeaways

  • All community health centers can now receive the COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government, which will help ensure equity in the vaccination program.
  • Community health centers are federally qualified to provide primary healthcare services in underserved areas, such as rural and inner-city locations.
  • Community health centers usually provide care on a sliding fee scale.

All federally qualified community health centers in the United States will now be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government for local distribution. The expansion of vaccine supply to these all centers is an effort by the Biden administration to help ensure greater equity in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

The federal government is offering COVID-19 vaccine shipments to an additional 520 community health centers with 2,500 sites that administer vaccines.

Strengthening Community Health Centers

Gina Capra, MPA, senior vice president of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), tells Verywell that prior to February 2021, community health centers in the U.S. were only receiving limited supplies of vaccine intermittently from state health departments.

“It really was on a state-by-state, locality-by-locality basis," Capra says. At that time, the health centers could only provide vaccinations to essential healthcare workers, per guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There were 250 centers in the first phase of the Health Center COVID-19 Vaccine Program, which is being run by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)—a part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The second phase added another 700 health centers. The current, third phase adds the remaining 520 HRSA-supported centers.

Expanding Vaccine Supply

Capra notes that state and local health departments have been stretched thin for years. “And then with the pandemic situation they've been stretched even further, particularly when the vaccination doses were approved,” Capra says. “States could not guarantee that our health centers would receive a reliable, constant supply to meet the needs of our populations.”

Vaccine supplies are now available through both federal and state programs. “We've gone through two subsequent phases," Capra says. "Each time increasing the number of health centers around the country that are eligible to order doses through the direct supply program and it's been going quite well."

According to the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), as of mid-April, community health centers have administered at least one dose of vaccine to more than 3.6 million patients and completed vaccination for more than two million patients.

What This Means For You

Community health centers provide care to marginalized and vulnerable people in the U.S. Now, these centers will be able to get a steady and reliable supply of COVID-19 vaccines. To find out if your community health clinic is offering COVID vaccines, check the HRSA's searchable list of centers that are participating in the COVID-19 vaccine program.

Helping the Most Vulnerable

Open Door Family Medical Centers in the Hudson Valley of New York was one of the first centers to get a supply of vaccines from the federal government, according to Lindsay Farrell, MBA, FACMPE, the organization’s chief executive officer, and president.

Gina Capra, MPA

It makes sense for community health centers to be central to the solution of getting vaccinations to the most vulnerable.

— Gina Capra, MPA

Open Door operates 14 medical centers and a mobile unit. It treats about 60,000 patients a year. Farrel says that many of the centers' patients do not speak English and are frequently employed as essential workers.

“It's been a terrific program and we're so glad that we were enrolled early on,” Farrell says. The Open Door clinics have now administered 20,000 shots of the COVID-19 vaccine at its centers and at pop-up vaccination clinics at other sites.

Community health centers serve more than 30 million people in more than 13,000 rural and urban communities, helping populations that are largely marginalized and vulnerable.

“It makes sense for community health centers to be central to the solution of getting vaccinations to the most vulnerable," Capra says, adding that these health centers often provide care for populations including homeless people, those at risk for homelessness, seasonal and migrant workers, people who do not speak English or do not speak it well, and residents of public housing.

“Two-thirds of our patient population are racial and ethnic minorities,” Capra says. “We know these are the same people who have disproportionately suffered from COVID-19 diagnoses over the last year. They’ve suffered higher mortality rates and hospitalizations compared to the general population.”

COVID-19 Testing and Primary Care

Capra adds that community health centers are also continuing to test people for COVID-19 and to treat patients who have become ill with the disease. According to the NACHC, community health centers have tested more than 10.1 million people for COVID, with nearly 1.3 million of those people testing positive.

The health centers are now also beginning to catch up with some of the primary health care that patients may have put off over the last year. Capra says that the pandemic added an administrative burden for the centers because additional health information must be collected and reporting needs to be conducted.

A Worthy Investment

To bolster efforts to curb the pandemic, community health centers will also receive more funding from the American Rescue Plan. According to the White House, HHS will invest nearly $10 billion to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines for vulnerable populations as well as to increase vaccine confidence.

Capra says that some of that money will also be used to purchase or repair the mobile health vans that many centers use to bring health care to the community.

To find out if your community health clinic is offering COVID vaccines, check the HRSA's searchable list of centers that are participating in the COVID-19 vaccine program.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The White House. Fact Sheet: Biden Administration announces a historic $10 billion investment to expand access to Covid-19 vaccines and build vaccine confidence in hardest-hit and highest-risk communities.

  2. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Health center COVID-19 vaccine program.

  3. National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). Total and Weekly COVID-19 and Vaccination Numbers by State.

  4. National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). America's Health Centers: Snapshot.

By Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette has over 30 years' experience writing about health and medicine. She is the former managing editor of Drug Topics magazine.