Strong primary care leads to better COVID-19 outcomes

An analysis found that counties with more primary care had better COVID-19 related outcomes.

The prevalence of primary care in a community is tied to COVID-19 outcomes such as incidence and death.

According to an analysis from the Primary Care Collaborative, counties with greater access to primary care, more robust public health, and fewer social vulnerabilities had better COVID-19 outcomes than those which did not. These counties make up 17 percent of the total U.S. population.

The analysis looked at county-level primary care access, strength of public health, and degree of social vulnerability to construct a new Community Health Index (CHI). The CHI was then used to look at the relationship between this county-level data and vaccination rates, incidence of COVID-19 infection before and after vaccines were made available, and COVID-19 deaths before and after vaccines were made available.

Those counties that scored in the lowest on CHI had worse COVID-19 deaths and incidence rates and represents 20 percent of the population. As CHI scores increase the rate of vaccination also increases with populations in the highest quintile being 26 percent more likely to be vaccinated than those living in the lowest CHI quintile, according to the report.

The researchers note that while COVID-19 incident and deaths fell across the country following the introduction of vaccines, it did not fall equally across the country. Those living in counties with the highest CHI were 12 percent less likely to get infected after COVID-19 vaccines were introduced and were 42 percent less likely to die from the virus compared to those in the lowest CHI quintile, the report says.

The three factors are likely highly interrelated, and the data seems to show that vaccination against COVID-19 matters as the introduction of the shots lowered incidences and deaths across all counties regardless of their CHI. Vaccines are not a silver bullet, though, as seen by counties with low access to vaccines or with patients who chose not to get vaccinated, the report says.

COVID-19 outcomes after the vaccines were made available show that other factors, those examined in the analysis, are associated with keeping people from getting COVID-19 and dying, according to the report.

“The findings suggest that primary care and public health leaders need to join forces to strengthen community resistance in advance of the next pandemic and to better address health inequities, with research beginning to emerge that in states and counties where primary care and public health had a more coordinated COVID-19 response outcomes were better,” the report says.