Drug stores have become a mainstay for flu shots and shingles vaccines, and the industry is capable of vaccinating tens of millions of people monthly.
“This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities,” said Zients, underscoring that due to supply constraints the initial availability will be limited. A priority will be to get the vaccine to minority communities that have suffered a disproportionately high toll of disease and deaths from the virus, he said.
The partnership with drug stores was originally announced by the Trump administration in November. At that time, no coronavirus vaccines had been approved. The pharmacy program will be administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and includes major outlets such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Rite Aid and Costco, as well as supermarket pharmacies.
Zients also announced an increase in doses the government is shipping to states, territories and some major metropolitan areas. Those will now total 10.5 million doses across all jurisdictions, up from 10 million announced last week.
The 1 million doses being shipped to pharmacies will be on top of the 10.5 million doses being allocated to states by the week.
Zients said the federal government will make $3 billion to $5 billion available to states to retroactively cover certain costs eligible for reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Those can range from protective gear for health care workers, to deploying their National Guards, to setting up community food programs. State expenses from last January will now be eligible for reimbursement.
But Zients said states need much more financial help from Washington, pointing out that Biden’s American Rescue Plan legislation requests $350 billion for states. The counter-offer a group of Republican senators advanced over the weekend omits that line item.
When fully deployed, the pharmacy partnership will enlist about 40,000 drug stores nationwide, Zients said, or roughly six times as many locations as are participating in the initial launch. Some local jurisdictions have started to offer vaccination at drug stores, but in most places that’s not the case. Signs on pharmacy front doors say no vaccine is yet available.
The two currently approved vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, require special cold storage. But chains including CVS and Walgreens, already participating in a program to vaccinate nursing home residents, have gained experience with the special handling requirements.
Soon the Food and Drug Administration will weigh approval of a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, a one-shot regimen that requires only standard refrigeration.
The world at large is in a race with the virus to vaccinate as many people as possible. Worrisome mutations have been identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil. The U.K. variant spreads more easily and carries a higher likelihood of fatal disease. The South Africa variant may reduce somewhat the effectiveness of vaccines. All three mutations have been identified in the U.S.
The vaccine is free to Americans, thanks to legislation passed by Congress. To date, the government has distributed nearly 50 million doses, of which about 32 million have been administered, or more than 60%. That’s a marked improvement from just a few weeks ago.
Fauci’s comments came after figures from Johns Hopkins University showed January to be the coronavirus’ deadliest month in the U.S. since the pandemic began. The U.S. death toll has climbed past 445,000, with more than 95,000 lives lost in January. Deaths are running at about 3,150 per day on average, down slightly by about 200 from their peak in mid-January.
After a slow start, the vaccination drive that began in mid-December is picking up the pace. More than 32.2 million doses have been administered in the U.S., according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is up from 16.5 million on the day Biden took office, Jan. 20.
The number of shots dispensed since Biden’s inauguration has been running at about 1.3 million per day on average, well over the president’s oft-stated goal of 1 million per day. More than 5.9 million Americans have received the required two doses, the CDC said.
However, the CDC reported Monday that many nursing home workers are not getting their shots when doses are first offered.
Researchers looked at more than 11,000 nursing homes and other such facilities that had at least one vaccination clinic between mid-December and mid-January. While 78% of residents got at least one shot, only 37.5% of staff members did. Surveys suggest some nursing home workers are skeptical of the shots’ effectiveness and don’t think viruses spread easily from them to the people they care for.