Local pharmacies a critical part of US Covid-19 vaccine roll-out

The Biden administration started giving vaccines directly to pharmacies on Feb 11. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - More Americans can now get vaccinated at their local pharmacies, as the Biden administration has widened the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines, distributing doses directly to pharmacy chains across the nation.

Unlike some countries that administer vaccines primarily through government-run sites or hospitals and clinics, America's federal government allocates vaccine doses to states, which can then decide how to dole out their vaccine supply, as well as to local pharmacies and federally run community health centres.

The Biden administration started giving vaccines directly to pharmacies on Feb 11, initially sending one million doses a week to 6,500 retail pharmacies.

It has since raised the number of doses allocated to pharmacies to 2.1 million a week, and has plans to include more than 40,000 pharmacies.

The involvement of pharmacies, many of them in drug and grocery stores, will greatly increase the number of places where people can get vaccinated beyond the mass vaccination sites in convention halls and stadiums, and healthcare facilities.

While some states were already distributing some of its vaccine supply to retail pharmacies, the federal programme increases the overall supply of vaccines that pharmacies get, as well as the number of pharmacies that can administer the shots.

This makes it easier and faster for people to get inoculated, although health officials have warned that supply will be limited in the early days.

Nine in 10 Americans live within 8km of a pharmacy. And people are already accustomed to going there for yearly flu shots, as President Joe Biden pointed out on Friday.

"I've sent millions of vaccines to thousands of local pharmacies - over 7,000 - to make it easier for folks to get the Covid-19 vaccine shot like they would a flu shot," he said during a visit to a federal vaccination facility at a stadium in Houston, Texas.

"People are comfortable going to their local pharmacy. They go there for their flu shot and everything else. They trust the pharmacist, and they're likely to go."

The government is also deploying mobile clinics to reach Americans who are not near a pharmacy or mass vaccination centre.

But for now, vaccines remain limited to eligible individuals, and with high demand, appointments are not so easily available.

Eligibility criteria varies from state to state, and technical glitches on pharmacy websites or the states' vaccine registration websites have frustrated those trying to book an appointment.

About 14 per cent of America's population has already received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

Friday's (Feb 26) news that a Food and Drug Administration panel voted to approve a single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine means America is on the verge of having a third vaccine to distribute.

Should this vaccine be authorised for emergency use, as expected this weekend, three to four million doses could be allocated for distribution in the coming week, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said on Thursday.

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