'A huge disparity': San Francisco, Oakland neighborhoods struggle with pharmacy deserts

ByStephanie Sierra, Lindsey Feingold, and Grace Manthey KGO logo
Saturday, January 16, 2021
SF, Oakland neighborhoods struggle with 'pharmacy deserts'
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Seniors in California are ready to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but there at least seven zip codes with 10,000 or more residents in the Bay Area that don't have any retail pharmacies.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Millions of Californians 65 and older are ready to get the COVID-19 vaccine, prompting a push to get these doses into the hands of retail pharmacies. However, an analysis by ABC7's data journalism team found there are at least seven zip codes with 10,000 or more residents across the Bay Area that don't have any retail pharmacies.

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In zip code 94603, there are no retail pharmacies within a four-mile radius for the more than 35,000 people that live there neighborhood. Around 97 percent of the population is Black or Hispanic.

"A lot of people ain't got access," Lynn Berry, who lives in that zip code, said.

RELATED: Sites for mass vaccinations start opening in CA, Bay Area

He is grateful to be alive after contracting COVID-19 over the summer.

"I was in a coma for three months, I was almost dead."

Berry, who has diabetes, relies on a Walgreens miles away to get his weekly medication. He lives near Oakland's East 14th Street Business District, an area also considered a pharmacy desert.

"We don't have pharmacies in this district," said Oakland City Councilwoman Treva Reid. "It's a huge disparity for us."

According to Cheryl Wisseh, a health scientist at UC Irvine's School of Pharmacy, "It's a desert based on the fact, it's greater than one mile or more from a neighborhood."

Based on the population in Berry's zip code, it should have 4.6 retail pharmacies per 10,000 people when compared to the county's zip code average of 1.3 pharmacies.

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"We would love our pharmacies that aren't in our district to come set up mobile clinics and outreach," said Reid. "So we can make sure we get our community vaccinated."

"Not having that pharmacy can be an issue," said Wisseh, who has extensively studied the issue of pharmacy deserts in Los Angeles County. "There's so many barriers to access, there's physical access, then there's having insurance to be able to pay for your medication, and then being able to get to the pharmacy."

San Francisco's pharmacy desert is zip code 92124, Bayview and Hunters Point.

More than 92 percent of the population is Black or Hispanic and there's only one retail pharmacy for the more than 35,000 people who live there.

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney told the ABC7 I-Team that's unacceptable.

RELATED: Vending machine to sell COVID-19 tests at Oakland International Airport

"We have to bring this vaccine to where people live," he said. "Especially for people who are very vulnerable with underlying health conditions, we don't want to ask them to take a bus all the way around and put themselves at greater risk."

Supervisor Haney is pushing for the county to open vaccination sites in our playgrounds, parks, and mass distribution centers including stadiums, like Oracle Park.

"What's frustrating to me is our county health officials don't have those set up yet and they haven't been planning to make sure that's available."

Councilwoman Reid shares the same frustration. She's pushing for the Oakland Coliseum to be the next mass-vaccination site, but is concerned about getting access to vaccines.

"As you know from the Governor's updates, they don't even have enough doses to provide the second dose to people," she said.

A scary reality -- Berry is bracing for what's next.

"I'm scared and the whole world is scared," Berry said. "It's bad out here, I want to be safe."

Mayor Breed announced Friday the city is opening three vaccination sites at city college, SF market in Bayview, and the Moscone Center. Breed says the first of these sites will be ready to go next week, assuming the county receives enough doses from the state.

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