A federal partnership with major chain pharmacies is expected to ramp up COVID-19 vaccine distribution and make the vaccine more widely available in the coming weeks.
The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) said the program is expected to be activated Thursday, and will allow pharmacies to directly receive COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government, rather than relying on states to transfer available vaccines.
Advocates said that as more vaccines become available, the vast majority of Americans could be vaccinated by late spring or summer.
"Really, at the end of the day, the constraint is going to be supply of the vaccine," said Kahleen Jaeger, senior VP of Pharmacy Care and Patient Advocacy for NACDS.
The NACDS said pharmacies across the country are ready to meet the high demand for COVID-19 vaccines, as millions of Americans look for where they can get vaccinated.
"The capacity of community pharmacies to vaccinate Americans is actually extraordinary," Jaeger added. "American retail pharmacies can easily administer 100 million vaccine doses in 30 days."
But supply is severely limiting pharmacies’ ability to roll out vaccines, with many pharmacies in Texas only getting a couple hundred doses here and there.
Most of the vaccine supply goes to mass vaccination sites and hospitals first.
"You’re talking about 250 million in Phase 1B, and we have 38 million doses that are actually available," Jaeger said.
A representative for Albertsons and Tom Thumb told FOX 4 they start scheduling vaccine appointments online as soon as they get their allocated doses, and within minutes, all the appointments are taken.
And pharmacies are getting numerous calls.
The Texas Pharmacy Association tells FOX 4 in a statement:
"People should be mindful that not all pharmacies have enough doses to vaccinate all those in Phase 1B at this time…While Texas is receiving vaccine weekly, pharmacies are frustrated because they aren’t receiving vaccine regularly."
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In the meantime, Astrazeneca and Johnson & Johnson are expected to get emergency use authorization for their vaccines in February and March respectively, which would help increase supply.
"As AstraZeneca and J&J secure their emergency use, and as Pfizer and Moderna continue to ramp up their manufacturing capability, we’re hopeful we’re looking at sometime this spring to get the vast majority of Americans, late spring, summer," Jaeger explained.
And more help is on the way to speed up the process.
There are 19 retail chain pharmacies, including CVS, Walgreens, Tom Thumb, and Albertsons, that have partnered with the federal government to receive vaccine directly through the federal Pharmacy Partnership Program, instead of waiting for states to release available vaccine.
"The federal Pharmacy Partnership Program has been turned on, and [Thursday], Operation Warp Speed and CDC will announce which of the pharmacies in your state will be a part of the initial rollout," Jaeger explained.
Many big chain pharmacies are asking people to sign up for email updates to be notified when the vaccine is available.
A rep for Albertsons and Tom Thumb said they are only scheduling vaccine appointments online, and people cannot get an appointment by phone or walk-in.