What Are Community Health Centers and Why Are They Getting More COVID Vaccines?

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Key Takeaways

  • A number of federally-funded Community Health Centers will start receiving direct supplies of COVID-19 vaccines the week of Feb. 15.
  • The program is part of the Biden Administration’s plan to increase the amount of vaccine to areas that are underserved by health care and to populations that are more vulnerable to the pandemic.
  • There will eventually be at least one Community Health Center in each state getting direct supplies of vaccine, with the program ramping up further in coming weeks.

Community Health Centers in areas of the country that have medically underserved or vulnerable populations are set to receive more vaccines against COVID-19. These doses will be in addition to supplies of vaccine that centers may already be receiving from states, tribes, or territories.

The move is part of the Biden Administration’s push to increase availability of and access to COVID-19 vaccines. The administration is also providing more vaccines to states, tribes, and territories with the overall goal of administering 100 million shots in its first 100 days.

The Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) program, which is run by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is overseeing this new initiative. The Community Health Centers involved are all part of the FQHC program, which helps fund community-based healthcare centers that work with urban and rural communities across the country.

This vaccine program is starting small, but will then increase slowly from this first phase as more supplies of vaccine become available. This initial phase will include at least one Community Health Center in each state and eventually will expand to 250 centers around the country.

Open Door Family Medical Centers in the Hudson Valley of New York is one of the first centers in the program, according to Lindsay Farrell, the organization’s chief executive officer and president. “We are ecstatic,” she tells Verywell.

Until now, Open Door has been getting small amounts of vaccine from New York State, and has limited doses to healthcare workers, who are in the first tier of those eligible to receive a shot. Farrell does not yet know how many doses of vaccine Open Door’s centers will get. 

Open Door operates 14 medical centers and a mobile unit. It treats about 60,000 patients a year, many of whom do not speak English but who frequently have jobs as essential workers, Farrell says.

“This program is part of a broader effort to ensure all communities are being reached in the national push to get people vaccinated,” reads a statement from the White House. “Community Vaccination Centers in underserved areas, the retail pharmacy program, mobile clinics, and efforts to increase vaccine confidence are also key tools to help states and communities vaccinate their most vulnerable populations.”

What Are Community Health Centers?

According to HRSA, it funds nearly 1,400 Community Health Centers operating in about 13,000 sites. These centers provide primary and preventive care to nearly 30 million patients in the United State each year and charge patients on a sliding scale. They provide affordable primary care to those populations that are more heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 91% of patients at these centers are individuals or families who are living at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, of whom nearly 63% are racial or ethnic minorities. These centers play a vital role in supporting local community response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The centers chosen for the initial roll-out of the program include those that work with populations that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. These populations include people who live in public housing, migrant or seasonal agricultural workers, people who don’t speak English well, and those who are homeless, according to HRSA.

What This Means For You

Additional supplies of COVID-19 vaccines will be available at Community Health Centers around the country within the next several weeks, which should aid in efforts to more fairly distributed the doses.

Vaccine Availability Is Rising

The Biden Administration has increased the weekly vaccine supply to states, tribes, and territories to 11 million doses nationally, which is a 5% rise over the previous week. This is a 28% increase since President Joe Biden took office on Jan. 20, according to the White House.

The administration is continuing to work with vaccines manufacturers in their efforts to increase the supply, and says it is committed to maintaining this supply level for the next several weeks. It is also making a commitment to ensuring that the distribution of the vaccines is equitable.

The number of cases of COVID-19 in the United States has now surpassed 27 million cases, according to the CDC. The death toll is more than 473,500.

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.

3 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. Health Resources and Services Administration. Federally Qualified Health Centers.

  2. Health Resources and Services Administration. Ensuring equity in Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Covid data tracker.

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.