February 3, 2021

1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses per week are heading directly to retail pharmacies

Daily Briefing

    Biden administration officials on Tuesday announced new measures aimed at accelerating America's Covid-19 vaccine rollout, including that the federal government will start shipping about one million vaccine doses per week directly to thousands of retail pharmacies throughout the United States.

    The U.S. Covid-19 vaccination scenario planning guide

    Where America's vaccine rollout stands

    CDC data shows that, as of Tuesday morning, the federal government had distributed about 52.7 million doses of the United States' two authorized Covid-19 vaccines, which each require that patients receive two doses of the inoculations a few weeks apart. According to CDC's data, a total of about 32.8 million doses of the vaccines had been administered to Americans as of Tuesday morning. Of those, about 26.4 million Americans had received "one or more doses," and about six million had received two doses, the data shows.

    Biden admin will begin shipping Covid-19 vaccine doses directly to pharmacies

    To help accelerate the vaccine rollout, Jeff Zients, the White House's Covid-19 response coordinator, on Tuesday said the federal government on Feb. 11 will begin shipping Covid-19 vaccine doses to about 6,500 pharmacies throughout America, including CVS Health, Rite Aid, and Walgreens locations. The government under the initiative aims to eventually ship Covid-19 doses to as many as 40,000 retail pharmacies across the country.

    Zients said the roughly one million doses shipped directly to pharmacies will come in addition to the millions of doses the federal government already ships weekly to states, territory, and tribes. Once pharmacies begin receiving the extra doses, Americans seeking to get vaccinated at the pharmacies should follow their state's eligibility requirements and, if they qualify for a vaccine, check with their local pharmacy to see whether they have available doses, Zients said.

    Zients said the administration hopes the pharmacy program will help to bolster equity in America's Covid-19 vaccine rollout. As NPR reports, data has suggested that, in many places throughout the United States, white people are getting vaccinated at significantly higher rates than people of color.

    "[Pharmacy] sites are selected based on their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from Covid-19, including socially vulnerable communities," Zients said. He added that CDC will monitor data from the pharmacy sites to identify any potential equity issues.

    According to Axios, the pharmacy program could help increase access to Covid-19 vaccines by tapping into local, national, and supermarket pharmacy networks that already "have an existing customer base, user portals, and other established resources when it comes to" implementing mass vaccination efforts.

    "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 five miles of a pharmacy," Zients said.

    However, Zients during the announcement cautioned that demand for Covid-19 vaccines likely will continue to drastically outpace supply.

    States will receive more vaccine doses in coming weeks, Zients says

    Still, Zients on Tuesday also announced that, over the next few weeks, states should expect to receive a small increase in the number of Covid-19 vaccine doses they receive, with expected doses rising from 10 million doses each week to about 10.5 million.

    Further, Zients said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will begin fully reimbursing states for money spent on activating the National Guard and other emergency measures implemented in response to Covid-19. States can seek retroactive reimbursements dating back to January 2020, when America's coronavirus epidemic began.

    According to Zients, the reimbursements will cost the federal government an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion. Zients said the reimbursements could allow states to "use the additional resources for vaccination efforts and emergency supplies moving forward" (Swasey, NPR, 2/2; CDC data, updated 2/2; Fernandez, Axios, 2/2; Lim, Politico, 2/2).

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