The retail pharmacies are working with the White House to get vaccines, once available, to a vulnerable population.
“Protecting the vulnerable has been the No. 1 priority of the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19, and that commitment will continue through distributing a safe and effective vaccine earliest to those who need it most,” Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “Our unprecedented public-private partnership with CVS and Walgreens will provide convenient and free vaccination to residents of nursing homes across America, another historic achievement in our efforts to get a safe and effective vaccine to Americans as fast as possible.”
The agreement was announced on the same day Pfizer said it would not apply for emergency authorization of its coronavirus vaccine before late November, ruling out President Trump’s assertions that a vaccine would be available before Election Day on November 3.
Pfizer is one of four companies testing a coronavirus in late-stage clinical trials in the United States, along with Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer had been the most assertive in signaling that its vaccine might be available by the end of this month.
Public health officials note that demonstrating that a new vaccine is effective and safe in under a year would be unprecedented, but could well happen, given the billons of government dollars invested in the effort and the round-the-clock work by scientists eager to develop a vaccine for a virus that as of mid-October had infected nearly 40 million people around the world and killed more than 1 million.
Walgreens issued a statement saying it is pleased to be part of Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership initiated by the Trump administration to facilitate and accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, working closely with government and health officials, manufacturers and distributors, and other industry leaders, Walgreens has helped accelerate the availability of COVID tests, ensured access to essential medicines and products, ramped up our annual flu immunization program, and served as a safe and trusted source of information and resources,” according to the statement.
CVS Health noted that it had begun to mobilize from the early days of the pandemic, and that this allowed the retailer to be in a position to offer the first large-scale COVID-19 testing sites in the country. The company said it has administered more than five million COVID tests through its retail pharmacies.
“CVS Health is already providing 70% of the testing done in a retail setting through its test sites at 3,700 of its drive-through pharmacies,” said Larry Merlo, president and chief executive officer at CVS Health. “Our community test sites are there for underserved communities and provide testing for long-term care facilities. At the same time, we’re helping America get back to work by offering testing directly through employers. Moving forward we’ll have the capacity to administer approximately four million COVID-19 tests per month to meet the nation’s needs ahead of a vaccine approval.”