Beginning Feb. 11, individuals eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations will be able to get their shots at select retail pharmacies across the country through a new public-private partnership.
The initiative, known as the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, will see the federal government distributing vaccines directly to national pharmacy partners as well as independent pharmacies. The White House announced the program's launch in a news release Feb. 2, calling it a key component of the Biden-Harris administration’s strategy "to expand equitable access to vaccines for the American public."
White House COVID-19 Response Team Coordinator Jeff Zients cautioned that vaccine availability will be limited at the program's outset. "In this first phase of the program, supply will be at only about 6,500 stores nationwide before expanding," a tweet from the COVID-19 Response Team noted, citing Zients. "In the early phase, many pharmacies will not have vaccine or may have very limited supply," the response team added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked with states to select pharmacy partners in part based on prospective partners' ability "to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19," according to the White House news release.
Not every federal pharmacy partner will be active in every state in the initial phase of the program, the White House noted. The list of pharmacy partners includes the biggest national supermarket chains—Walmart, Kroger, Publix, Costco, Albertsons Companies, Hy-Vee, Meijer, H-E-B, Ahold Delhaize's Retail Business Services and Winn-Dixie—as well as smaller, independent and regional players, including Coborn's, Giant Eagle, Raley's, SpartanNash and Wegmans. A full list of federal pharmacy partners is available at whitehouse.gov.
Walmart, in a blog post, said it's standing by and ready to administer federal allocations of the vaccine at Walmart and Sam's Club pharmacies in 22 states. Eligibility requirements for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine are set by individual states, and Walmart will follow that guidance, Walmart U.S. VP of Health & Wellness Operations Amanda Jenkins wrote in the post. Eligible customers will be able to schedule their vaccination appointments online as allocation allows.
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"We know that achieving widespread COVID-19 vaccination is how we will eventually end this pandemic, and we are ready to serve our communities, customers and associates as we work towards this goal," Jenkins wrote.
Starting the week of Feb. 8, Hy-Vee said in a release it anticipates receiving vaccine allocations directly from the CDC to help vaccinate qualifying residents in Iowa and South Dakota. “Through our preparation efforts, we have the ability to start vaccinating eligible populations less than 24 hours after receiving allocations," said Randy Edeker, chairman, president and CEO of Hy-Vee. "The issue to date has been demand far exceeding supply, and we believe this partnership helps strengthen our advocacy efforts to receive more of the vaccine.”
FMI–The Food Industry Association praised the Biden administration's launch of the pharmacy partnership, saying it "recognizes the reputation and authority of supermarket pharmacies" in the national COVID-19 vaccination effort.
"Grocery stores serve as health and well-being destinations, providing consumers the opportunity to receive COVID-19 vaccinations when available at the same location where they already purchase food and other essentials," FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a news release from the trade group. "This not only makes vaccine access more convenient, but it also makes it safer and reduces the risk of exposure in the midst of a pandemic."
The White House, in its news release, also noted that COVID-19 vaccine supply to states, tribes and territories will increase to 10.5 million doses a week beginning this week. "The administration is committing to maintaining this as the minimum supply level for the next three weeks, and we will continue to work with manufacturers in their efforts to ramp up supply," the White House stated.
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