Pharmacies are on front line of vaccine administration

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NEW YORK — With effective vaccines winning approval from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the fight against COVID-19 has entered a new stage, one marked by hope and promise. In the front ranks of those administering the vaccines stand the pharmacies of several mass market retail chains as well as independent pharmacies.

The groundwork was laid for retail pharmacy participation in the mass vaccination effort last September, when HHS authorized state-licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 vaccines to patients age three and older once they became available.

“Allowing pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 vaccines will greatly expand convenient access for the American people,” said Admiral Berett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the time of the announcement.

That authorization was the fruit of efforts by 13 national pharmacy groups, including the National Association of Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacy Association and the American Pharmacists Association, to make the authorization under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act.

“Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers found that in a pandemic situation, 80% of the nation can be vaccinated seven weeks sooner when pharmacies are included in the vaccination plan,” said Steve Anderson, president and chief executive officer of NACDS. “There is a pharmacy within five miles of 90% of all Americans, and these health destinations ultimately will prove essential for COVID-19 vaccinations.”

During the third week of December, both CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) began administering the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech to residents of nursing homes and long-term-care facilities, which have been lethally impacted by the virus. More than 76,000 residents of LTC facilities have died from COVID-19, as well as nearly 1,200 staff members.

Consequently, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that health care workers and residents and staff of LTC facilities be priority recipients of the vaccines. The first doses were administered to frontline health workers — and several opportunistic politicians.

Both CVS and Walgreens began the rollout across 12 states, with plans to expand distribution in the months ahead. Walgreens, for instance, will eventually provide vaccinations to nearly 3 million residents and staff at 35,000 LTC facilities that have selected Walgreens as their vaccine provider. CVS expects to vaccinate up to 4 million residents and staff at more than 40,000 LTC facilities.

At the same time, Walmart began administering the vaccine developed by Moderna to its pharmacists and health care workers at selected Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs in New Mexico. According to Dr. Tom Van Gilder, Walmart’s chief medical officer, the retailer has been intensively preparing to administer the vaccines to the general public nationwide.In mid-December, other retailers, including Rite Aid Corp., Kroger Co., Costco Wholesale Corp., Publix Super Markets Inc. and H-E-B, were waiting to hear when they would receive and begin to administer the vaccines. Executives of a number of major chains, including CVS, Walgreens and Costco, were quoted in media reports as saying they expect to begin administering vaccinations to the general public no earlier than spring, perhaps as early as March or as late as May or June.


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