What more pharmacy deserts amid the pandemic means for public health

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Many low-income Americans lack convenient access to pharmacies, an issue highlighted in a University of California Irvine study published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.

The study examined communities in Los Angeles County in which residents' nearest pharmacy was at least a mile away. It found that most of these communities had dense populations, large concentrations of Black and Latinx residents, lower incomes and less vehicle and home ownership. 

Pharmacy shortages usually correspond to fewer clinical pharmacy services, such as vaccinations, screenings and medication management services, Cheryl Wisseh, PharmD, the study's lead author, said in a Jan. 6 UCI News article.

Dr. Wisseh also said that residents within pharmacy deserts are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, which is problematic as pharmacies will be major distributors of COVID-19 vaccines.

The problem is not unique to Los Angeles County, as pharmacy deserts affect low-income Americans across the country. 

After Aetna dropped Walgreens from Illinois Medicaid plan Dec. 1, the state's 400,000 Medicaid patients could no longer pick up their prescriptions at Walgreens pharmacies, a common chain with headquarters in a Chicago suburb. 

Illinois Medicaid patients can get their prescriptions filled at CVS, which owns Aetna. However, many low-income residents may find it difficult to access CVS pharmacies; a Dec. 30 Chicago Tribune report pointed out CVS "has no pharmacies in five key West Side neighborhoods" in Chicago.

The UCI study's authors said pharmacy closures can contribute to decreased medication adherence. Patients over 50 were more likely to stop taking cardiovascular pills after their local pharmacy closed, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More articles on pharmacy:
Moderna vaccine may provide protection from COVID-19 for years, CEO says
New Ohio law protects 340B hospitals from extra PBM charges
Bayer, CureVac partner to develop COVID-19 vaccine

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