WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s administration announced Tuesday that it is moving to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, freeing up more doses for states and beginning to distribute them to retail pharmacies next week. The push comes amid new urgency to speed vaccinations to prevent the spread of potentially more serious strains of the virus that has killed more than 445,000 Americans.
Starting next week, 1 million doses will be distributed to some 6,500 pharmacies across the country, the White House said. The administration is also boosting by 500,000 the weekly allocation of vaccines sent directly to states and territories for the coming weeks, up to 10.5 million. It is allowing state and local governments to receive additional federal dollars to cover previously incurred expenses relating to the pandemic.
Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients announced the moves on a call with the nation's governors Tuesday morning and then detailed them to the public in an afternoon news conference.
Drugstores 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,” Zients said.
“This is a critical step to provide the public with convenient trusted places to get vaccinated in their communities," he added.
The number of participating pharmacies and the allocation of vaccines are expected to accelerate as drug makers increase production. The White House said the ultimate goal was to distribute the vaccines through more than 40,000 pharmacies nationwide. State and local guidelines will determine who is eligible to get a shot at their neighborhood pharmacy. Availability will be limited at first.
“Getting it into pharmacies is a viable approach,” said Dan Mendelson, founder of the health care industry consulting firm Avalere Health. “The pharmacies know how to move people in and out.”
Part of the reason the vaccination campaign got off to a slow start, he added, is that states lacked their own infrastructure for mass vaccinations.