Supermarket and other retail pharmacies now building up their COVID-19 vaccination capabilities will need to turn it up even more under a new initiative from the Biden administration.
The White House on Tuesday kicked off phase one of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, which will supply coronavirus vaccines directly to pharmacies nationwide. Starting Feb. 11, retail pharmacies participating in the public-private partnership will receive limited vaccine supply to immunize priority population groups at no cost.
Currently, the program — announced by White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients — has 21 national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks, totaling more than 40,000 pharmacy locations across the country.
Besides the nation’s three largest drugstore chains — CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens and Rite Aid — grocery and mass retail participants include Walmart/Sam’s Club, The Kroger Co., Albertsons Cos., Ahold Delhaize USA, Publix Super Markets, Costco Wholesale, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Meijer and Southeastern Grocers. The group also includes food and drug chains in the Topco Associates network, such as Wegmans Food Markets, ShopRite, Giant Eagle, Brookshire Grocery, Price Chopper, Save Mart, Weis Markets, Coborn’s, Big Y Foods, Acme Fresh Markets, Associated Food Stores, King Kullen, Food City, Ingles Markets, Raley’s, Tops Friendly Markets and SpartanNash corporate-owned supermarkets.
Other participants include drug wholesaler independent pharmacy networks such as Health Mart (McKesson), Good Neighbor Pharmacy (AmerisourceBergen) and Medicine Shoppe/LeaderNET (Cardinal Health).
In announcing the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, the White House called the effort “a key component of the administration’s national strategy to expand equitable access to vaccines for the American public.”
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked with states to select initial pharmacy partners based on a number of factors, including their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19,” the administration stated. “Americans should check their pharmacy’s website to find out if vaccine is available, as supply will be limited in the initial phase.”
Plans call for the federal government this week to step up the weekly COVID-19 vaccine supply to 10.5 million doses nationally, a 22% increase since President Joe Biden took office on Jan. 20. The president has touted a goal to administer 100 million coronavirus shots in his first 100 days.
“The administration is committing to maintaining this as the minimum supply level for the next three weeks,” the White House said, “and we will continue to work with manufacturers in their efforts to ramp up supply.”
FMI-The Food Industry Association applauded the Biden administration’s plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccine doses directly to supermarket and other retail pharmacies around the country.
“Given the success to date of supermarket pharmacists administering vaccines — serving as knowledgeable and accessible immunization providers within their communities, and collaborating with public health officials and other providers — a successful COVID-19 vaccination plan should actively involve supermarket pharmacists,” FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a statement. “Moreover, 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. 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.”
Sarasin pointed out that many FMI members operating pharmacies offer ample space for COVID vaccine programs, including large store footprints and parking lots that allow social distancing. These retailers also have staff to support in-store or off-premise vaccination clinics and provide additional or extended store hours for seniors and immunocompromised patients to receive vaccinations.
“We look forward to working with the administration to facilitate this new initiative, which recognizes the reputation and authority of supermarket pharmacies in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination effort,” she said.
Walmart yesterday signaled its readiness for the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program in announcing that Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club pharmacies in 22 states will be able to accept and administer federal allocations of COVID-19 vaccines. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant noted that supply will be limited, and it expects to provide access to vaccinations beginning late next week.
“Once our locations have received the vaccines, eligible customers and members can reserve a convenient vaccine appointment directly via a scheduling tool on the Walmart and Sam’s Club websites, while allocation lasts,” Amanda Jenkins, vice president of health and wellness operations at Walmart U.S., said in a blog post on Tuesday. “In addition to appointments, the scheduler will provide a digital reminder when it’s time to return for the second dose of the vaccine in order for the vaccine to be fully effective.”
Walmart already providing COVID immunizations in 17 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico under state, territorial and/or municipal partnerships.
“Ninety percent of the country lives within 10 miles of a Walmart, and we can make a real difference in our communities by partnering with state and local governments to improve access to the vaccine,” Jenkins added. “We know that achieving widespread COVID-19 vaccination is how we will eventually end this pandemic.”
Midwestern grocer Hy-Vee said yesterday that it has been named a Federal Retail Pharmacy Program partner in Iowa and South Dakota. The West Des Moines, Iowa-based company expects to begin receiving COVID vaccine allocations directly from the CDC starting the week of Feb. 8 to immunize qualifying residents in Iowa and South Dakota, according to each state’s guidelines. Hy-Vee noted that it will have “an extremely limited vaccine allocation to start” but will receive more doses in the coming weeks.
“We have the infrastructure and resources in place to serve communities throughout our eight-state region as soon as we receive additional vaccine,” according to Randy Edeker, chairman, CEO and president of Hy-Vee. “Through our preparation efforts, we have the ability to start vaccinating eligible populations less than 24 hours after receiving allocations. 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.”
Beginning today, Publix reopened appointments for eligible individuals to receive the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccinations at selected pharmacy locations in Florida. The Lakeland, Fla.-based chain also said pharmacies in Florida’s Nassau, Pasco and Pinellas counties also will now be administering the vaccine, making coronavirus shots available at 325 pharmacy locations in 23 counties.
“We understand how many people in our communities want to receive this critical vaccine, and it is our privilege to administer doses to the residents of Florida,” stated Publix CEO Todd Jones. “With each distribution, we remain grateful for the role we are able to play in helping protect the health and safety of as many people in our communities as possible.” Publix also is providing the Moderna COVID vaccine in South Carolina and Georgia, with the company announcing Monday that doses again became available at 97 Georgia pharmacies.
Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Cos. said Tuesday that — as early start partners in Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington — its pharmacies are slated to receive direct allocations of COVID-19 vaccines through the new federal program beginning next week. The additional supply from the federal government will be administered based on state eligibility guidelines, Albertsons reported, adding that more of its pharmacies will participate in the federal program as more doses become available.
"Our pharmacy teams have been preparing to handle the unprecedented demand and administer the vaccine safely and efficiently as members of the public become eligible," Albertsons stated. "To date, we have administered more than 250,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine through partnerships with the states in which our 1,700-plus pharmacies operate."
Albertsons said people currently eligible for a coronavirus vaccination can access its appointment scheduler and find out more information about availability at albertsons.com/COVID-19. New appointments are added to the online scheduler as more supply of the vaccine becomes available, the company noted.
Steve Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), called the new federal COVID-19 vaccine program “a crucial step” in widening access and said “trusted local pharmacies are ready to turn vaccine doses into vaccination appointments.”
“We all know that vaccine supply remains the rate-limiting step at this time, yet the nation’s network of community pharmacies can readily meet the goal of giving 100 million vaccinations in one month, assuming such supply is available,” Anderson said in a statement on Tuesday. “As White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients articulated so well today, 90% of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, and the nation’s 40,000 regional and national pharmacy locations are vital for scaling COVID-19 vaccinations. Pharmacies are key to giving COVID-19 vaccinations efficiently and equitably.”
*EDITOR'S NOTE: Article updated with Albertsons COVID-19 vaccine information.