HHS Boosts Access to COVID-19 Vaccines for Vulnerable Populations

Nearly $100 million in funding will help to further protect the most vulnerable populations and advance equity by expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines.

HHS recently announced that it will help to expand critical access to COVID-19 vaccines among older adults and people with disabilities.

HHS, along with the CDC and the Administration for Community Living (ACL), will provide nearly $100 million in grants to help further key goals of protecting the most vulnerable populations and advancing equity.

The initiative is part of  President Joe Biden’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.

The strategy, which was announced in January, aims to boost the availability of tests for schools and underserved populations, increase manufacturing of tests and testing supplies, and prepare the nation for the threat of variants by increasing virus genome sequencing.

"The Biden Administration is committed to expanding access to vaccines, with a unique focus on ensuring those hit hardest by COVID-19 and at highest risk for severe illness or death get vaccinated," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, said in the announcement. 

"Through this unique, exciting new partnership between ACL and CDC, HHS will work alongside advocates to help older adults and people with disabilities get the services and assistance they need in order to get vaccinated and have the security of knowing they are protected from COVID-19,” Becerra continued.

With funding from the CDC, ACL will issue $93 million to provide critical services to overcome barriers that prevent the most at-risk populations from receiving vaccines. 

Specifically, the grant will help to provide assistance with scheduling vaccine appointments, transportation to vaccine sites, and direct support services needed to attend vaccine appointments.

The grants will also help to provide patients in-home vaccination options and education about the importance of receiving the vaccine for older adults and people with disabilities.

The funding will ensure the aging and disability networks can identify people who are unable to independently travel to vaccination sites and provide technical assistance to local health departments on improving access to vaccines for vulnerable populations, HHS said. 

Another $5 million in funding will help fund national hotlines to connect older adults and people with disabilities with local disability and aging agencies that can help with vaccine registration and provide services necessary to receive the vaccine.

HHS explained that this particular funding will help to increase the capacity of the Eldercare Locator, which is a nationwide service funded by ACL that connects older Americans and their caregivers with trustworthy and local support resources.  

An additional $93 million in funding will be distributed to the State Units on Aging and Area Agencies on Aging (50 million), Aging and Disability Resource Centers ($26 million), Centers for Independent Living that receive federal funding directly from ACL ($5 million).

And about $4 million in funding will go to University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, Protection and Advocacy systems, and State Councils on Developmental Disabilities, each. 

Overall, older adults are more likely to have a severe illness, be hospitalized, or die from COVID-19. Adults 65 years of age and older account for about eight of every 10 coronavirus-related deaths, HHS said.

And about one in five older adults may be unable to easily leave their homes and require either in-home vaccination or specialized arrangements to receive the vaccine.

Despite the importance of vaccinations for these populations, people with disabilities and older adults have difficulty finding information about their eligibility, are unsure of where to go for vaccinations or where to get needed transportation, and don’t know how to navigate mass vaccination sites. 

Therefore, the nearly $100 million in funding will help to address these barriers and ensure that older adults and people with disabilities can equitably access vaccines

Next Steps

Dig Deeper on Patient data access

xtelligent Health IT and EHR