Biden administration to begin shipping vaccine doses directly to pharmacies

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The Biden administration plans to announce Tuesday that it will begin distributing a limited number of Covid-19 vaccine doses directly to retail pharmacies across the nation, three sources familiar with the announcement told POLITICO.

Many pharmacies are already administering vaccine doses that have been allocated to states. Under the new program, the federal government would ship doses directly to pharmacies. The new pharmacy initiative — which is aimed at broadening access to vaccines generally — is separate from an ongoing federal program to have Walgreens and CVS vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities.

Only about 1 million doses per week will be made available through the new program at first — a small allotment compared to the roughly 10 million doses the administration is shipping to states each week. The Biden administration is treating the first weeks of the program as a dry run to test if the federal pharmacy program will work before scaling it up, according to one source. The first shots distributed through the program may not be administered until next week, according to another source.

The cautious approach comes as Biden’s team tries to speed up vaccine distribution while grappling with questions about how many doses are sitting unused in states, trying to help manufacturers increase supply and exploring options such as a federally run mass vaccination sites.

The White House is expected to brief governors on the rollout late Tuesday morning before publicly announcing the plan shortly after noon. White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients is scheduled to hold a press briefing at 12:15 p.m.

The federal government has so far shipped nearly 50 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to states, according to CDC data. More than 26 million people have received a first dose of Moderna or Pfizer’s vaccine, and nearly 6 million have been administered their second dose as of Monday.

The Trump administration last November announced the federal government would partner with several independent and chain pharmacies including Albertsons, Rite Aid, Kroger, Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Publix to administer Covid-19 vaccines. It is unclear if doses will be sent to all the pharmacies that agreed to be part of the partnership.

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