'Pharmacy deserts' could complicate Valley access to COVID vaccine

Rite Aid is one of just two pharmacies in the entire 93706 zip code. But in 93611, there are two pharmacies in the same parking lot.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- As COVID vaccinations expand in our communities, pharmacies will help accelerate the rollout.

Action News dug into the data showing why that would still leave parts of the Valley behind, and how public health officials plan to plug the holes.

Pharmacies play an important role in a community's health care, including offering flu vaccinations every year, but your access to a pharmacy might depend on where you live.

For example, the 93292 zip code in Visalia is low on pharmacies.

And 95333 in Le Grand has none.

Rite Aid is one of just two pharmacies in the entire 93706 zip code. That means there's half a pharmacy for every 10,000 people in an area that's about 90% people of color, with a median income just above $32,000.

But in 93611, there are two pharmacies in the same parking lot. There's a total of 20 total pharmacies, more than four per 10,000 people. This zip code's population is less than half people of color with a median income of more than $92,000.

The difference between living in southwest Fresno or Clovis could also determine how easily you can get a COVID vaccine.

"If you don't have access to it, you're not going to get it," said Kenny Banh, M.D., a clinical emergency medicine doctor at UCSF Fresno. "But just showing up does not by itself solve the problem."

Dr. Banh runs UCSF's Mobile HeaL Clinic where he takes COVID testing to the masses in poorer and more rural areas, which are typically underserved.

And Fresno County public health officials are coordinating with him and other providers to use the same model with the vaccine.

"As you can see with testing, it's about multiple access, multiple doors," said Fresno County Community Health division manager Joe Prado, who coordinates the county's vaccination rollout. "We want it in multiple areas and so the vaccination's going to follow the same suit."

But just getting the vaccine to a zip code doesn't stop the pandemic.

Surveys show rural patients have the most suspicion about the vaccine.

"We have to do education," Dr. Banh said. "I mean, we have to tell people there's no microchip in the vaccine. Things you don't think about. It's really basic stuff like we're not experimenting on you. It's like public health good. What does emergency authorization mean? It's things like that you have to win them over because they're coming skeptical."

There's still no state plan for widespread COVID vaccinations, but you can check with your primary care doctor and you can find every nearby pharmacy in this interactive map.

App users: For a better experience, click here to view this in a new window
Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.