Starting this week, the federal government is shipping 1 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine directly to retail pharmacies, giving many Americans the opportunity to get their shot closer to home.
The plan is to address supply chain snags that contributed to a slow rollout of the vaccine.
“90 percent of Americans live within 5 miles of a pharmacy and the nation’s 40,000 regional and national pharmacy locations are vital for scaling Covid-19 vaccinations,” Steven C. Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, said last week.
The new shipment, part of the first phase of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, will go to 6,500 stores nationwide, including CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Rite Aid locations in select states. That number is expected to increase in the coming weeks based on supply. Before, stores only had access to doses through limited state allocations.
Some pharmacies are expected to start vaccinating eligible individuals with these doses as early as Thursday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson Kate Grusich told NBC News.
But how do people know if the new supply is coming to their neighborhoods and how do they book their shots?
Access is limited. Since the program is only in its initial phase, not every store in every state will receive the doses. However, the stores will include CVS locations in states such as California, New York, Texas and Maryland, and Walgreens locations in others such as Arizona, Illinois and North Carolina, to name a few. There are 1,000 Walmart and Sam’s Clubs pharmacies in 22 states such as Alaska, Colorado and Tennessee which will also receive doses.
People will have to answer screening questions at the store's websites to make sure they're eligible for the current allocation in their area, and select whether they're booking both the shots or just their second.
Then, they will have to search by their city/state or ZIP code to find nearby stores with available doses and appointment slots.
Stores may show as "Fully Booked" or "Available," and people then must click on a store with supply and open appointments to choose their time slots.
- CVS and Walgreens - Appointments can be made starting Thursday. Vaccinations will begin Friday. They can also be booked through each store's app.
- Walmart and Sam’s Club - Vaccination portals are open. Sam’s Club membership is not required.
- Publix - Portal open.
- Kroger - Portal open.
- Costco - Portal open but may redirect you to government sites for scheduling, depending on area.
- Rite Aid - Limited appointments. Check with your local health department.
- Albertsons - Available at select locations.
- Independent pharmacies - Check your local store's website or call as it may vary.
What should I bring to my appointment(s)?
- Medical or Medicare insurance card
- Pharmacy card
- If people are uninsured or their state requires proof of age for eligibility requirements, they should bring their driver’s license and/or another government-issued proof of identity, such as your Social Security card or number.
- People may be prompted to print and sign a vaccination consent form to speed the check-in process. Otherwise they can complete it at the store.
What about my second appointment?
Most pharmacies will follow up with text and/or email alerts about both appointments.
Trusted local pharmacists
Pharmacists say that the new program hopes to bring vaccine rollout down to a community level, with local pharmacists whom people know and trust. That's a special concern when misinformation and confusion have contributed to questions and distrust of the vaccine, especially among vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and minorities.
"When you have issues of vaccine hesitancy and whether people want to do it or not, they want to talk to their local health care provider and their pharmacist ... who cares for them every day of the year," Kurt Proctor, senior vice president of strategic initiatives of the National Community Pharmacists Association, said by phone. They "know their community and their community knows them," he said.