The Work of the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project to Support COVID-19 Immunization

December 19, 2020

Pharmacy Times® interviewed Sue Peschin, president and CEO of Alliance for Aging Research, on the work that the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project is doing to engage diverse constituencies on the importance of the clinical trials process, regulatory review, and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Pharmacy Times® interviewed Sue Peschin, president and CEO of Alliance for Aging Research, on the work that the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project is doing to engage diverse constituencies on the importance of the clinical trials process, regulatory review, and equitable access to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines.

Alana Hippensteele: What is the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project, and what kind of work has it been doing since it was established?

Sue Peschin: Hi Alana, thank you so much for having me. Well the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project launched in early December, and it's really meant to be sort of a unique umbrella campaign focused on convening a dialogue with a broad array of stakeholders, really trying to get as many groups and as many types of groups as possible on the importance of the clinical trials process, regulatory review, and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

We have about 80 leading organizations that represent patients, caregivers, families, diverse communities, health care professionals, including a lot of the pharmacy groups, older Americans, veterans, frontline workers, and scientists. Our project really seeks to provide education and advocate for adherence to the gold standard regulatory review process of the Food and Drug Administration and to raise awareness around the importance of COVID-19 vaccination for public health, for the economy, and for the broader society.

We're also trying to promote the impact of widespread COVID-19 vaccination uptake and the benefit of as many people as possible getting their vaccines. We're really trying to emphasize that for individuals, families, and the broader community.

Lastly, we're really trying to drive a conversation because there needs to be dialogue around this that helps ensure equitable access to vaccines through equitable access to information and the dialogue itself.

Alana Hippensteele: Why was it important for the Alliance for Aging Research to get involved in the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project?

Sue Peschin: Well the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everybody, but it didn't impact all of us equally. Older adults really were disproportionately impacted by this pandemic. The risk of COVID-19 increases with age, the risk for serious disease or death, and for individuals with certain chronic medical conditions. In fact, older Americans 65 and older who represent 16% of the population in the US, but 80% of all COVID-19 deaths, so really a lot of disproportionate impact. And in nursing homes where there's primarily people 65 and older, those are about 40% of the deaths in the US.

So, the greatest risk is really in those over the age of 80 or 85 years old, and it's really exacerbated the complications of advanced age because cardiovascular disease, diabetes, those things don't stop in the middle of a pandemic. So, it's really hurt regular care for management of chronic conditions, medication adherence for chronic conditions, and although there have been improvements in testing within nursing facilities, more than 50% of positive cases are asymptomatic, so it's not always easy to detect right away.

Additionally, you have disparities rates of COVID-19 among Black or African-Americans, who are more than one and a half times their share of the population, and in some states, the rate's closer to two and a half times.

Alana Hippensteele: So, you've discussed some of the other stakeholders in this project. Why has it been important for them to get involved to support this mission as well?

Sue Peschin: We've seen tremendous interest in the project, and we have more than 80 partners now at the national level. They represent folks across the board, including older adults, medical professionals that work on the frontlines, and then diverse communities, a lot of minority communities in the older adult partner groups. We have groups like the National Council on Aging, the National Hispanic Medical Association, and Retire Safe. Our pharmacy partner groups include the American College of Clinical Pharmacy, the American Pharmacists Association, the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, the California Pharmacists Association, and we welcome other state pharmacy associations.

If you want to come join us and the National Community Pharmacists Association, and also the chain drugstores recently joined us, and we're thrilled about that. We have medical partner groups, like the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American Nurses Foundation, and Emergency Nurses Foundation, and then of the diverse groups, we have the Black Women's Health Imperative, the National Hispanic Medical Association, as I mentioned, and the National Caucus and Center on Black Aging Incorporated, as one of our co-conveners, so we're happy to partner with them to help lead the project.

If you want to join or learn more about how to join, visit the website at covidvacineproject.org. We'd really love to have you.