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Biden administration announces direct vaccine shipments to pharmacies

Posted February 2, 2021 11:46 a.m. EST
Updated February 2, 2021 12:35 p.m. EST

Biden administration announces direct vaccine shipments to pharmacies

— The Biden administration announced Tuesday it will soon begin direct shipments of coronavirus vaccines to retail pharmacies on February 11, expanding points of access for Americans to receive shots.

"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. That's why we're pleased to announce our first phase of the federal retail pharmacy program for Covid-19 vaccinations," White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said in a briefing.

The administration also announced that it is increasing the weekly allocation of vaccines going to states, tribes and territories by an additional 5%, bringing the weekly total of vaccines purchased per week a minimum of 10.5 million, Zients said.

Zients sought to manage expectations, noting that it will initially be "limited" when it begins, and will be at about 6,500 stores before expanding. He said both vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are stepping up production to provide the extra doses.

"In the early phase, many pharmacies across the country will not have vaccine, or may have very limited supply," he said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with states to select pharmacy sites, which will take into account "their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from Covid-19, including socially vulnerable communities," Zients said.

Administration officials briefed representatives from major pharmacy chains on Tuesday before announcing the plan publicly.

The plan to expand vaccine availability in pharmacies has long been in the works and was a key component in the former Trump administration's distribution plan as well. In some states, such as Maryland, those plans are underway, and pharmacies have already begun distributing vaccines.

Public health experts have said it's critical to expand locations Americans can visit to get vaccinated, both to streamline distribution efforts but also to ensure the vaccine is available to a wider swath of the public as vaccine disparities emerge.

Adding new locations for vaccinations will only alleviate part of the problem, though. Vaccine supply remains extremely limited and the additional locations are likely to come as states are still clamoring for more doses.

Just last month, the new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told NBC News that the early expansion to pharmacies wouldn't mean every pharmacy, everywhere.

"I don't think late February we're going to have vaccine in every pharmacy in this country," Walensky said.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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