The distribution of COVID-19 drugs could be exhibit A in the argument that inadequate access to care is a major social determinant of health.

At least that’s a conclusion that might be drawn based on a new CDC study.

According to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis, the rate at which COVID-19 drug therapies are being distributed “…were lowest in high vulnerability zip codes, despite these zip codes having the largest number of dispensing sites.”

The study observes that “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated long-standing inequities in the social determinants of health.”  Despite this, federal efforts to dispense COVID drugs in an equitable manner were not achieving their goals, and as a result, “…dispensing rates in high-vulnerability zip codes were approximately one half the rates in medium- and low-vulnerability zip codes.”

Why the disparity?  The study hypothesizes that

To access oral antiviral therapy, a patient must first receive a positive test result for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), followed by a clinical assessment by a health care provider authorized to prescribe the drug (i.e., physicians, advanced practice registered nurses, and physician assistants). Although 47.5% of dispensing sites are located in high-vulnerability zip codes as of May 21, 2022, and approximately 88% of the U.S. population live within 5 miles of a site, most pharmacies serving as dispensing sites do not have authorized prescribers available on-site or via telemedicine. Persons living in high-vulnerability zip codes might face challenges accessing health care providers who are authorized to prescribe oral antivirals (1). In addition, the end of reimbursement for testing, health care provider assessment, and oral antiviral dispensing through the Health Resources and Services Administration Uninsured Program on March 22, 2022, might have contributed to lower oral antiviral dispensing rates for certain populations living within high-vulnerability zip codes.

Learn more about the apparently inequitable distribution of COVID-19 treatments in the CDC report “Dispensing of Oral Antiviral Drugs for Treatment of COVID-19 by Zip Code–Level Social Vulnerability — United States, December 23, 2021–May 21, 2022.”