Biden Team Will Test Shipping Vaccines Direct to Pharmacies

President Joe Biden’s administration will begin to test a program to provide coronavirus vaccines directly to pharmacies, as officials seek to increase the pace of U.S. inoculations.

Biden’s team announced Tuesday that they will ship roughly one million doses per week to about 6,500 pharmacies nationwide as a trial run, beginning Feb. 11. They also will boost shipments to states by 5% to 10.5 million doses per week, up from the 10 million doses announced a week earlier.

“This pharmacy program will expand access in neighborhoods across the country, ” Jeff Zients, who serves as Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said at a briefing with reporters. The shipments will increase as supply allows but “due to the current supply constraints, this will be limited when it begins next week,” he said.

The pharmacies providing shots at stores include CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart and Costco, as well as networks of independent operators. Not all of the chains will immediately be taking part in every state, the White House said.

Zients also announced that the Biden administration would expand reimbursements to states for eligible expenses related to the pandemic, dating back to the start of 2020. Those expenses include masks, gloves and mobilization of National Guard troops, he said.

This is expected to cost $3 billion to $5 billion and doesn’t require congressional approval, Zients said, yet called on Congress to pass a new coronavirus aid package. States need resources for other parts of the coronavirus response, including testing, genomic sequencing and mass vaccination centers, he said.

“The faster Congress acts, the faster we can scale vaccination sites, mobile units, we can increase testing, we can increase emergency supplies,” he said.

Biden’s team discussed the developments during a call with governors earlier Tuesday. The number of doses sent to pharmacies in each state will be calculated using the same formula as states’ overall shipments, but the administration has picked pharmacies in rural or underserved regions in a bid to ensure equity in vaccinations, Zients said.

Those seeking vaccines will still be subject to local immunization criteria, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will monitor data from the program to ensure equitable and efficient immunization by pharmacies, he said.

Providing Shots

CVS Health Corp. will start immunizing people on Feb. 11 in CVS Pharmacy stores in 11 states through the federal partnership, the company said in a statement. The pharmacy chain is working directly with Indiana and Ohio to give shots using their state allocations.

Walgreens will offer shots in 13 states and New York City and Chicago through the program, focusing on underserved areas with a high social vulnerability index score. Walgreens will continue working directly with states. It’s already given 300,000 shots through these arrangements, the company said.

Pharmacy teams “stand ready with their expertise to help educate and vaccinate additional Americans, including those in rural and underserved communities,” Walgreens President John Standley said in a statement.

The Trump administration tapped about two dozen pharmacies last fall to participate in the program, which would open thousands of convenient places to get immunized. Initially, the partnership was planned to start when the general public became eligible. It’s now being accelerated to help relieve some of the bottlenecks in getting shots into arms.

As many as 40,000 pharmacies across the country could eventually administer Covid-19 vaccines, including independent pharmacies, national chains and supermarkets, Zients said. The Biden administration also has plans to use mass vaccination sites, mobile clinics, community health centers and other providers.

The increase in doses -- 1.9 million more doses per week to states, plus another one million doses to pharmacies -- is possible because of increased production by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., Zients said. The vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna require two shots.

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