Feds to Start Sending COVID Vaccines to Pharmacies Next Week

Alicia Ault

February 02, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The Biden administration says it will begin shipping COVID-19 vaccine to pharmacies starting February 11, which represents the first use of a partnership that was created in the previous administration.

The retail pharmacy partnership was announced in November with the idea of getting vaccine to 40,000 retail sites. Most Americans live within 5 miles of a pharmacy, said White House COVID-19 Response Team Coordinator Jeff Zients in a briefing on Tuesday.

The goal is to eventually ship vaccine directly to some 40,000 pharmacy sites across the United States.

The program "will expand access in neighborhoods across the country so you can make an appointment and get your shot conveniently and quickly," Zients said. He noted that supply would be limited initially. The government will ship 1 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to 6500 pharmacies next week.

"In the early phase, many pharmacies will not have vaccine or may have very limited supply," he said. "People should first make sure they meet their state's eligibility requirements for vaccinations and then check availability on their local pharmacy's website."

The initial 6500 pharmacies will be chosen based on their ability to help distribute the vaccine more equitably, he said. Most of the major pharmacy and grocery chains, including Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Rite Aid, Kroger, Publix, and Albertsons, along with independent pharmacies, will be participating. The administration posted the full list on the White House website.

The federal government is also increasing the total number of vaccine doses being shipped over the next 3 weeks, said Zients. Shipments will be increased to 10.5 million, from 10 million last week. The 1 million going to pharmacies are additional doses.

Zients said the increase was possible because Moderna and Pfizer had been able to scale up manufacturing to produce more doses.

The administration also announced Tuesday that it would retroactively reimburse states — going back to January 2020 — for services that are eligible to be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That includes masks, gloves, emergency feeding actions, sheltering at-risk populations, and National Guard mobilization.

That will cost $3-5 billion but doesn't require congressional approval or appropriations, said Zients. He noted that President Joe Biden is seeking $350 billion from Congress to cover efforts to contain the pandemic and vaccinate all Americans.

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