You may have never heard of the term “federally qualified health clinic,” commonly referred to as FQHCs, but you probably know some of them by name, like Legacy, El Centro de Corazon, and Health Care for the Homeless. In all, there are about a dozen FQHCs in the Houston area with over 50 locations.
They are the principal primary care providers for low-income areas where uninsured rates are high. They are funded by a combination of federal grants, Medicaid and Medicare, and philanthropy. They are an integral part of the region’s healthcare infrastructure and provide high quality services to the communities they serve.
They are also located in many of the areas where COVID outbreaks have been the highest. Many of their patients fall into the essential worker category. These organizations have existing patient relationship that make them uniquely qualified to do outreach to these communities and quell concerns about the safety of the vaccines. If we want to stop community transmission with a vaccine program, the FQHCs need to be on the frontline of the vaccination campaign and that means getting them more vaccines.
Until now, they have been extremely supply constrained. Some do not have the ultracold storage necessary for the Pfizer vaccine and because many of their patients tend to be transitory, distributing a two-dose vaccine to their patients could be a challenge.
But soon to be approved J&J vaccine, which can be stored in a regular refrigerator and only requires one dose, is ideal for the FQHC setting. The US should allocate the vast majority of the J&J supply to the FQHCs when it comes online.
The White House issued this press statement promising more supply to community health centers and to FQHCs, in particular. So far, the Biden Administration actions on the vaccine rollout have mostly been on the margins and it is not clear how much effect this new initiative will have. Hopefully, someone in the Administration will realize what a game-changer the combination of the J&J vaccine and the FQHCs could be.