The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidance this week tied to legal standards and best practices for improving access to COVID-19 vaccine programs and ensuring nondiscrimination based on race, color, and national origin.

The new guidance ensures that entities covered by civil rights laws understand their obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), laws requiring that federally assisted health care providers and systems ensure fair, equitable access to vaccines and boosters. Recipients of federal financial assistance include state and local agencies, hospitals, and health care providers.

Whether information is distributed via flyers, online information portals, or in person at vaccine distribution sites, there is a legal obligation that COVID-19 vaccination programs be accessible and free of discriminatory barriers that limit a community’s ability to receive vaccinations, including boosters.

“We know that vaccines continue to be the best way to protect ourselves against COVID-19 and so ensuring everyone in America has easy and equitable access to them is a must,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “No matter your ZIP code, no matter your background, if you’re eligible–there’s a vaccine that’s in reach for you.”

“This guidance was developed to ensure that everyone possible can access COVID-19 vaccines and boosters who is eligible,” OCR Director Lisa Pino added. "We all must do our part to ensure that no one is left behind during this pandemic, especially those most at risk.”

This publication is one of many comprehensive action steps taken by HHS to support President Biden’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness to protect those most at risk, advance equity, and address disparities in rates of infection, illness, and death.

Click here to read the full text of the guidance.