By CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — CVS Health announced an initiative to increase access to COVID-19 vaccinations in Black and Hispanic communities on Thursday, as racial disparities have already plagued the vaccine’s rollout.

The pharmacy chain said it will also work to advance vaccine education in underserved communities to combat vaccine hesitancy.

“We are committed to reaching people of color and underserved communities to ensure health equity as we work to vaccinate all Americans,” Karen S. Lynch, the president and CEO of CVS Health, said in a statement. “Our presence in communities across the country uniquely positions CVS Health to educate vulnerable populations and connect them with vaccine administration services.”

Almost half of the nearly 10,000 CVS Pharmacy locations in the country are located in communities ranked “high” or “very high” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), according to CVS.

CVS’ strategy to get vaccines to these underserved communities includes community-based partnerships, education-focused marketing and proactive patient outreach, the company said.

As more vaccines become available, CVS said it is planning to use mobile vaccination vans and launch community-based pop-up clinics in March and April, which it will do in conjunction with the YMCA.

“Throughout the pandemic, the Y has worked to meet the needs of the 10,000 communities we serve across the United States,” Kevin Washington, the president and CEO, YMCA of the USA, said in a statement.

“We are proud to team up with CVS Health as part of our efforts to help ensure everyone has equitable access to accurate information about the vaccines and to the vaccines themselves, especially communities of color, which have been disproportionately affected by the health and economic impacts of the virus,” Washington added.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit communities of color in the U.S. with inordinate furor.

Black Americans are 2.3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to white Americans when age is taken into account, one analysis found. Moreover, recent data from California shows that Latinos accounted for 46.3% of COVID-19 deaths as of Feb. 10, despite making up 38.9% of the state’s population.

Communities of color also bore the brunt of essential work roles amid the crisis, the CDC noted, which likely contributed to the disproportionate virus impact.

Even as the vaccine is being rolled out, preliminary data also shows that Black Americans have been vaccinated at rates significantly lower than white Americans, according to an ABC News analysis.

CVS said it will also conduct outreach via text messages and emails to vulnerable communities in the coming weeks to address hesitancy and encourage vaccinations.

Neela Montgomery, the president of CVS Pharmacy, said more than 40% of its pharmacists and more than 50% of its pharmacy technicians identify as non-white “and they are important voices in helping people understand the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”

Finally, CVS said it is partnering with Lyft to provide free or reduced price rides to vaccine appointments in underserved communities.

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