Retail pharmacies get ready for COVID-19 vaccine

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U.S. government to partner with chains on distribution

WASHINGTON — When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, retail pharmacies will play a critical role in getting it to American consumers.

On Friday the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a partnership with large chain pharmacies and networks that represent independent pharmacies and regional chains. The program, which covers about 60% of the nation’s pharmacies, will provide access to future  COVID-19 vaccines.

“Ensuring access and affordability of the COVID-19 vaccine for all Americans is a top priority for the Trump Administration,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said. “We are leveraging the existing private sector infrastructure to get safe and effective vaccines supported by Operation Warp Speed into communities and into arms as quickly as possible with no out-of-pocket costs. The vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, and our new agreement with pharmacy partners across America is a critical step toward making sure all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines when they are available.”

HHS noted that many pharmacists already play important roles as immunizers in their communities, and have played a vital role in the public health response to COVID-19 by counseling patients, expanding access to childhood vaccinations during the pandemic, and ordering and administering COVID-19 tests.  By working with these partners, the federal government will rapidly expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, the agency said, adding that vaccines will be administered at partners’ pharmacy locations at no cost to patients.

“Since 2012, CDC has worked extensively with pharmacies to improve pandemic preparedness, conduct vaccine throughput exercises, and assess store and organizational response capabilities,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield.  “Through these partnerships, we will leverage established relationships to support our critical public health mission of vaccinating the American public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Retailers have indicated that they are ready to provide access to vaccination services.

“CVS Health is prepared to play a prominent role in administering COVID-19 vaccinations to the general public, which builds on our previously announced agreement to administer vaccines in long-term care facilities,” said Dr. Troyen Brennan, chief medical officer, CVS Health. “Our extensive experience safely and efficiently providing vaccinations is unmatched, and this year alone we’ll provide flu vaccines to nearly 20 million Americans across the country.

“With approximately 70% of the U.S. population living within three miles of a CVS Pharmacy, we’ll be easy to reach when a vaccine is authorized by the FDA and becomes available in retail settings. Our pharmacists, nurse practitioners and pharmacy technicians have been an invaluable community resource since the pandemic began and are ready to play a critical role in the vaccination effort.”

FMI – The Food Industry Association said it was pleased that supermarket pharmacies are also partnering with the federal government on the vaccination program.

“Supermarket pharmacists stand ready to be part of the COVID-19 vaccination effort,” FMI president and chief executive officer  Leslie Sarasin said in a statement. “FMI’s member companies operate roughly 12,000 supermarket pharmacies nationwide, with pharmacists providing in-depth patient counseling and comprehensive immunization services. Moreover, the ability for consumers to receive a COVID-19 vaccination at the same location where they already purchase food and other essentials 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. Finally, already being such trusted health care providers to their customers, supermarket pharmacists can play a key role in addressing patient concerns and highlighting the importance of getting vaccinated.

“It is vital for supermarket pharmacies to be part of the solution. We look forward to working with HHS to ensure that supermarket pharmacies play a significant role in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination effort.”

Below is the list of chain and community-pharmacies networks that had signed on as of November 6

  • Albertsons Companies, Inc. (incl., Osco, Jewel-Osco, Albertsons, Albertsons Market, Safeway, Tom Thumb, Star Market, Shaws, Haggen, Acme, Randalls, Carrs, Market Street, United, Vons, Pavilions, Amigos, Lucky’s, Pak n Save, Sav-On)
  • Costco Wholesale Corp.
  • CPESN USA, LLC
  • CVS Pharmacy, Inc. (incl. Long’s)
  • Good Neighbor Pharmacy and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation’s PSAO, Elevate Provider
  • Health Mart Systems, Inc.
  • H-E-B.
  • Hy-Vee Inc.
  • LeaderNET and Medicine Shoppe, Cardinal Health’s PSAOs
  • Managed Health Care Associates (MHA)
  • Meijer Inc.
  • Publix Super Markets, Inc.
  • Retail Business Services, LLC (incl., Food Lion, Giant Food, The Giant Company, Hannaford Bros Co, Stop & Shop)
  • Rite Aid Corp.
  • The Kroger Co. (incl., Kroger, Harris Teeter, Fred Meyer, Frys, Ralphs, King Soopers, Smiths, City Market, Dillons, Marianos, Pick-n-Save, Copps, Metro Market)
  • Topco Associates, LLC (incl. Big-Y Pharmacy and Wellness Center, Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Super One Pharmacy, FRESH by Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Coborn’s Pharmacy, Cash Wise Pharmacy, MarketPlace Pharmacy, Hartig Drug Company, King Kullen, Food City Pharmacy, Ingles Pharmacy, Raley’s, Bel Air, Nob Hill Pharmacies, Save Mart Pharmacies, Lucky Pharmacies, SpartanNash, Price Chopper, Market 32, Tops Friendly Markets, ShopRite, Wegmans, Weis Markets, Acme Fresh Markets)
  • Walgreens (incl. Duane Reade)
  • Walmart, Inc. (incl. Sam’s Club)
  • Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. (incl. Winn-Dixie, Harveys, Fresco Y Mas)

Other retailers are signing on to the program as well. On Friday Ahold Delhaize’s GIANT Co., which operates 132 GIANT and MARTIN’S in-store pharmacies, announced that it has signed on with HHS to become a COVID-19 vaccine provider as well, for example.

“Our pharmacists are trusted health advisors in the local communities that we serve and well-equipped to safely administer future COVID-19 vaccines,” said Leigh Shirley, director of pharmacy operations, The GIANT Company. “Being part of this federal pharmacy program lays the groundwork once a vaccine is available to help increase access to and distribution of the vaccine.”

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores has lauded the partnership as another indication of the critical role U.S. pharmacies play in the nation’s health care.

“NACDS national and regional members are extremely well prepared, as a result of their hard work, planning and execution and as a result of the education and training of pharmacy teams,” NACDS President and CEO Steven Anderson. “National and regional pharmacies alike will be partnering at the federal and state levels in this historic vaccination initiative. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, it also will be critical to continue to anticipate, identify and resolve any nagging barriers that stand in the way of efficient administration of COVID-19 vaccinations and other services that are essential to the American people. NACDS members maintain a proactive footing in engaging with federal and state government leaders in that important work.”

Currently, there are no COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized or approved by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to the CDC.  However, this pharmacy partnership is being established in anticipation that one or more COVID-19 vaccines will be authorized or approved and recommended for use in the United States before the end of 2020.


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