Expanded Vaccine Rollout Includes Direct Shipments to Pharmacies

The program will start with 6,500 pharmacies and grow to include up to 40,000.

A CVS pharmacist gives a Covid-19 vaccine to a nursing home resident in the Harlem neighborhood of New York last month. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

(CN) — The Biden administration announced plans Tuesday to ship 1 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines directly to pharmacies around the country as part of an effort to expand access. 

Vaccines will be shipped to 6,500 pharmacies across the United States starting Feb. 11 as part of the administration’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.  

“Millions of Americans turn to their local pharmacies every day for their medicines, flu shots, and much more. And pharmacies are readily accessible in most communities, with most Americans living within 5 miles of a pharmacy,” Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said during a briefing Tuesday. 

Zients explained that the plan will eventually scale to include up to 40,000 pharmacies nationwide as manufacturers boost their supply capabilities. A White House fact sheet released Tuesday listed 21 national pharmacy chains that will participate in the program, including Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid. 

But in this early phase of the rollout, Zients warned that many pharmacies may have a “very limited supply” of the vaccine. 

Pharmacy sites will be chosen “based on their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from Covid-19, including socially vulnerable communities,” he said. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will monitor site data for equity concerns. 

“People should first make sure they meet their state’s eligibility requirements for vaccinations and then check availability on their local pharmacy’s website. Equity is at the core of how the Centers for Disease Control is working with states to select pharmacy partners for this first phase,” Zients added. 

The new program is separate from an ongoing federal initiative to vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities at Walgreens and CVS. 

The administration plans to increase the number of vaccine doses allotted weekly to states, tribes, and territories by 5%, upping the total of vaccines purchased to a minimum of 10.5 million per week.  

The federal government will also retroactively reimburse states for expenses incurred for pandemic-related emergency services, including masks, gloves, emergency feeding actions, sheltering at-risk populations, and mobilization of the National Guard, dating back to January of last year.  

Zients said the reimbursement will cost between $3 and $5 billion. 

According to the CDC, the federal government has shipped nearly 50 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to states for allotment. More than 32 million vaccines have been administered.

Approximately 6 million people nationwide have received both doses of the two-dose vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

President Biden has pledged to administer 100 million vaccine doses within the first 100 days of his administration. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, called the goal “a floor, not a ceiling.” 

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