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COVID-19 vaccine deserts: What are they and why are they so dangerous?

With the delta variant spreading, vaccine deserts are becoming increasingly concerning

Photo Illustration by Alex Cochran

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. New, more transmissible strains and faltering vaccination campaigns have led to outbreaks worldwide. The U.S. is facing the same challenge and health officials have a new concern — vaccine deserts.

What are vaccine deserts?

Vaccine deserts refer to areas with low vaccination rates due to limited access, reported 6 ABC in Philadelphia.

  • About 10% of eligible Americans live in vaccine deserts, reported Boston News.
  • “I think there’s a fear that there will be outbreaks in vaccine deserts and places where there’s not much vaccination,” said Frederic Bushman, a professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania, via ABC.

People are not getting vaccinated “either because they firmly believe in conspiracy theories or getting the vaccine just hasn’t been convenient,” explained Dr. Ala Stanford of the COVID-19 Black Doctors Consortium, per ABC.

Why are vaccine deserts dangerous?

With more transmissible variants on the rise, health experts are increasingly concerned that “dense outbreaks” could spread through the U.S. in areas with low vaccination rates, reported the Deseret News. Concerns about dense outbreaks are linked to concerns that the delta variant could become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S. very soon.

  • The delta variant reaching a vaccine desert could lead to concerning outbreaks because unvaccinated people are not protected from variants like vaccinated people are, reported ABC.

Where are vaccine deserts?

A project to map vaccine deserts was launched recently. The project, called the “Vaccine Equity Planner,” is a collaboration from the Boston Children’s Hospital, Ariadne Labs and Google, reported Boston News.

  • The map shows vaccine deserts as areas “where it is a more than 15-minute drive to the closest COVID-19 vaccination site,” per Boston News.

The Vaccine Equity Planner is a free online tool where people can look up their state and zip code to see if they live in or near a vaccine desert.

  • For individuals, the site provides information on the closest vaccination centers and different routes of transportation to reach these centers, per Boston News.
  • For health officials, the site highlights clinics or other places within vaccine deserts that currently do not offer vaccinations but could in the future, per the site.

How can we limit the dangers of vaccine deserts?

Combating the dangers of vaccine deserts involves individuals and health authorities, reports Boston News.

  • Individuals can make additional efforts to get vaccinated — even if it seems inconvenient, reported News Channel 5 in Nashville.
  • Officials can continue to pursue ongoing vaccination campaigns.

“It can’t just be a campaign for a couple of weeks,” Stanford told ABC. “It has to be persistent and consistent so people know when they’re ready you’re going to be there.”