A potential partnership between the CDC and Dollar General could mean a boost in delivering vaccinations to rural residents across the country. The company stated that 75% of all Americans live within five miles of a Dollar General store, and that 75% of its stores serve communities under 20,000 people. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking at partnering with Dollar General stores in an effort to get more vaccines into rural areas. 

During a virtual business summit put on by Health Action Alliance on Tuesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said the CDC was in talks with the discount retail stores to serve as a vaccination site. While the stores don’t have pharmacies, they do have refrigeration and stores in rural areas. 

As of August 2020, Dollar General had more than 16,720 stores in 46 states, according to Dollar General’s website. That’s nearly twice the number of stores as the next largest private retailer working on vaccine rollout. The company said that 75 percent of all Americans live within five miles of a Dollar General store, and that 75 percent of its stores serve communities with fewer than 20,000 people in them. 

“In rural areas, residents often don’t have access to big-box stores. We’re exploring a promising collaboration with Dollar General stores, which have locations that include refrigeration capacity within 10 or 15 miles of our rural communities in all but four states,” Dr. Walensky said during the summit. 

Currently, the CDC is working with Walmart pharmacies, Walgreens and CVS to provide vaccines. Already, Walensky said, more than 100 million vaccine shots had been given, equating to 58 million people who have received the initial dose, and 30 million people who had received both doses. That’s the equivalent of about 10 percent of the population, Walensky said. 

When compared with big box stores, Dollar General’s size alone could provide more access. According to Statista.com, there are only 4,756 Walmart stores across the country. Walgreens and CVS have 9,277 and 9,967 stores respectively.

No details were provided by Walensky or Dollar General, but Dollar General was one of the first companies to provide incentives for its employees to get vaccinated, offering four hours of pay to hourly frontline workers who get the shots. Besides $173 million in employee appreciation bonuses tied to the pandemic, Dollar General said it also made investments in PPE and sick leave programs and changed health insurance policies to waive copays for employees taking advantage of telehealth programs. 

On March 6, during a press conference, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, head of Biden’s Health Equity Task Force, said that the administration would be increasing efforts to get vaccines into the hardest-hit areas, like rural communities. 

“So, as we look to the next phase of this program, we will prioritize filling gaps in our coverage to the … hardest-hit, highest-risk communities, whether they be urban or rural,” she said. “And as we double down on the reach and impact of our federal programs, we’ll continue increasing our vaccine supply to the states.”

Walensky noted during the virtual summit that many people trust the brick and mortar stores in their communities, which could lead to a higher percentage of people getting the vaccine. Currently, the concern is that more rural residents are less likely to get the vaccine, which would only extend the pandemic.

In a January report, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that rural residents said they were more hesitant than the vaccine than the rest of the nation. The national survey found that 35% of rural respondents said they probably or definitely would not get the vaccine, compared to 27% in suburban areas and 26% in urban areas.

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