Patients visiting dialysis centers for kidney support will see access to COVID-19 vaccinations, according to a new federal effort announced Thursday, months into the country’s vaccine rollout. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the agency partnered with dialysis providers nationwide to reach the at-risk patient population.
“This effort is another important step in making sure that vaccines reach the most medically vulnerable communities and that equity continues to anchor our efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” Walensky said in a statement, citing heightened risk for poor outcomes from COVID-19 among patients on dialysis.
Chronic kidney disease is more common among ethnic minorities, who also face fewer odds of receiving transplants; the agency estimated that 34% of dialysis patients are Black, whereas 19% are Hispanic, and nearly one quarter of staff members in dialysis clinics are Black, per the CDC.
Despite a strong message on an equitable vaccination effort from White House COVID-19 response team, available data from the CDC still indicates that non-hispanic white individuals have received the sweeping share of vaccinations over all other race/ethnicities, though nearly half of this data is missing.
The federal effort announced Thursday specifically ropes in clinics with the Medicare End-Stage Renal Disease Program, said to serve over 550,000 patients on regular dialysis. The effort aims to leverage providers’ experience administering other vaccinations, as well as “extensive operational, logistical, and information-technology infrastructure.”
According to the CDC, just 35% of medical workers in dialysis centers have received vaccinations. Walensky specifically said major operators like DaVita Inc. and Fresenius Medical Care North America (FMCNA), and other dialysis providers were involved in the partnership to “to support the rapid vaccination of most dialysis patients and healthcare personnel.”
“The dialysis provider community came together to advocate for the needs of our patients,” Javier Rodriguez, DaVita Inc., president, said in a statement. “We commend the Biden administration for providing direct access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Dialysis patients are one of the highest risk and most diverse patient populations. Offering patients direct access to the vaccine in a convenient and trusted site of care improves health equity, addresses challenges with third-party sites and reduces hesitancy rates.”
Bill Valle, chief executive officer of FMCNA, also lauded the administration, and said “some states have already taken the lead in getting vaccine to dialysis patients,” but the new national plan will bring “equal access” to patients nationwide. Dr. Rob Kossmann, EVP and chief medical officer of FMCNA, added that most dialysis patients across Fresenius’ centers have additional underlying conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure.
“They also often face transportation and other challenges that make accessing a vaccine on their own very difficult. As our nurses routinely provide other vaccinations and medications in our dialysis centers, this national rollout is an essential step forward,” Kossmann wrote in part in a statement posted Thursday.