March 4, 2021

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CVS, Walgreens, other pharmacies to begin delivering COVID-19 vaccines within days

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Within days, you might be able to get a vaccine from your local pharmacy.

After weeks of vaccine distribution being largely limited to hospitals, health systems and local health departments, COVID-19 vaccines are poised to roll out at major pharmacies throughout the country, including the nation’s two largest chains, CVS and Walgreens.

While state-determined eligibility and availability will remain limited for the time being, experts say they’re hopeful that the nation’s established network of pharmacies will help speed up distribution amid consternation over the pace of the rollout so far.

“I have no doubt” that it will, said Bunny Ellerin, director of the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management Program at Columbia Business School.

She said that the major pharmacy chains are especially well-suited to handle the distribution campaign because they manage flu vaccinations for millions of Americans annually, giving them expertise that pop-up sites might lack.

Florida Presbyterian Homes CEO Joe Xanthopoulos, dressed as Santa, receives a Pfizer Covid-19 vaccination from Walgreens Pharmacist Ericka Gutierrez at the Florida Presbyterian Homes in Lakeland, Florida, on Tuesday, Dec. 22.

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Throughout the country, vaccine eligibility is still limited to certain portions of the population and is determined by state health officials based on recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While it varies from state to state, eligibility generally currently includes certain older Americans and essential workers. Those eligibility restrictions will continue to apply to the pharmacy chains until states expand access, which is currently limited in large part due to an insufficient supply of vaccines.

The rollout is taking place after the Biden administration activated the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program as part of the coronavirus vaccine effort, enabling distribution to retail locations throughout the country.

In this initial phase, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have selected certain pharmacy chains to focus on specific areas of the country. 

Which states will offer CVS vaccinations?

At CVS, which has nearly 10,000 locations, including pharmacies inside Target stores, vaccination appointments can be scheduled beginning Thursday, Feb. 11 for about 350 stores across 11 states: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Appointments will begin Friday, Feb. 12.

Appointments will be required. They can be set up at CVS.com or through the CVS Pharmacy app. Anyone without internet access can call (800) 746-7287.

CVS is asking anyone interested in a vaccination appointment not to contact individual stores.

“Because active stores will change regularly based on vaccine supply, CVS Health will not provide a full list of participating locations,” CVS said.

Which states will offer Walgreens vaccinations?

At Walgreens, which has more than 9,000 pharmacies, vaccinations will be provided at certain stores in 17 states and jurisdictions beginning Friday, Feb. 12. Those include locations in Arizona, Chicago, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, New York City, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Appointments can be made at Walgreens.com/ScheduleVaccine. Eligible people can call their local pharmacy but wait times could be significant. Initial locations with available vaccines were chosen by the government to focus primarily on medically underserved areas, Walgreens spokesperson Rebekah Pajak said.

Walgreens also announced Tuesday that it’s partnering with Uber to provide free or discounted rides to vaccination appointments for up to 10 million Americans. Access to ride appointments will be provided when the vaccination is scheduled. The company is not providing walk-in appointments for now as it does during flu shot season.

Other pharmacies chosen to deliver vaccines at certain locations include Walmart, Ride Aid, Kroger, Publix, Costco, Albertsons, Safeway and Meijer.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

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