CVS, Walgreens, Winn-Dixie, Walmart, Sam’s Club and Costco are among the big-name companies will soon join Publix in getting COVID-19 vaccines out into senior citizens and others who qualify for a shot. But not all locations will get shots until there are adequate supplies.
The Biden Administration announced Tuesday that 1 million doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive at pharmacies across the country as early as next week at 6,500 retail pharmacies. The push comes amid new urgency to speed vaccinations to prevent the spread of potentially more serious strains of the virus that has killed more than 448,000 Americans.
Drugstores have become a mainstay for flu shots and shingles vaccines, and the industry is capable of vaccinating tens of millions of people monthly.
“This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities,” White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said. “This is a critical step to provide the public with convenient trusted places to get vaccinated in their communities.”
CVS said it will receive 250,000 doses initially, to be distributed to pharmacies in 11 states, but not yet in Florida and Georgia.
Walgreen’s website says the CDC is working with their pharmacies to optimize vaccine access in areas with a high social vulnerability index score. In the Jacksonville area, the CDC map shows Putnam, Bradford and Charlton counties have high vulnerability scores.
Winn-Dixie’s website has added a button to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, but no stores or appointments are yet available.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in Florida will receive vaccines but doesn’t list specific stores where appointments will be available.
Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, said there is no question rolling out vaccines at these big-name pharmacies is great, but it’s still not enough.
“Not only do grocery stores not go into underserved areas, neither do pharmacies. Think about it like if you have a food desert. You typically have a pharmacy desert,” Joshi said.
Walmart says 90% of the country lives within 10 miles of one of its stores.
“It’s going to put so much pressure on that store, on that private entity in terms of providing the vaccine,” Joshi said.
Joshi said vaccines need to get into more churches, mom and pop pharmacies and community colleges.
He said that it’s not that steps aren’t being taken to get vaccines out, just that a lot more needs to be done.
“It’s taken longer than people would have anticipated to get vaccinated and a lot of that is getting supply and getting the supply (to) local communities (so) that it can be administered,” Joshi said.
The number of participating pharmacies and the allocation of vaccines is expected to grow as drug makers increase production. The White House said the ultimate goal was to distribute the vaccines through more than 40,000 pharmacies nationwide. State and local guidelines will determine who is eligible to get a shot at their neighborhood pharmacy. Availability will be limited at first.
“Getting it into pharmacies is a viable approach,” said Dan Mendelson, founder of the health care industry consulting firm Avalere Health. “The pharmacies know how to move people in and out.”
Part of the reason the vaccination campaign got off to a slow start, he added, is that states lacked their own infrastructure for mass vaccinations.
In addition to distributing one million doses distributed to pharmacies across the country, the administration is also boosting by 500,000 the weekly allocation of vaccines sent directly to states and territories for the coming weeks, up to 10.5 million. It is allowing state and local governments to receive additional federal dollars to cover previously incurred expenses relating to the pandemic.
The partnership with drugstores was originally announced by the Trump administration in November. At that time, no coronavirus vaccines had been approved. Participating are major chains like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, big box stores such as Walmart and Costco, and supermarket pharmacies. CVS said it will receive 250,000 doses initially, to be distributed to pharmacies in 11 states.
The pharmacy doses will be distributed to states by population, but a priority will be to get the vaccine to minority communities that have suffered a disproportionately high toll of disease and deaths from the virus, Zients said.
He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was “making sure that we are picking pharmacies in that first phase that are located in areas that are harder to reach to ensure that we have equitable distribution of the pharmacy doses.” Walgreens said it was selected in part to “optimize vaccine access in medically underserved areas.”
The 1 million doses being shipped to pharmacies will be on top of the increased allotments to states over the coming three weeks. The Biden administration has sought to increase certainty to state governments on their upcoming allocations to streamline deliveries and prevent stockpiling of second doses for the two-dose regimens.
The Tuesday announcement comes a day after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious-disease expert, called on Americans to get vaccinated as soon as they're eligible to prevent further mutations of the virus. The U.S. is tracking the spread of potentially more virulent and treatment-resistant variants.
“Viruses cannot mutate if they don’t replicate," Fauci said. "And if you stop their replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations.”
The U.S. government has already started working with vaccine manufacturers on potential booster shots to enhance protection against the variants.
Biden's move to allow for an additional $3 billion to $5 billion in retroactive funding to state and local governments for reimbursement of pandemic-related spending was expected to free up more money for vaccine distribution.
“States will be fully repaid for things like masks, gloves and the mobilization of the National Guard, and they can use the additional resources for vaccination efforts and emergency supplies moving forward,” Zients said.
That is on top of additional assistance to state and local governments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency already authorized by the Biden administration for them to stand up and support vaccination sites across the country.