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February 2, 2021 1:45 PM, EST

Biden Team Will Test Shipping Vaccines Directly to Pharmacies

A pharmacy technician prepares a dose of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine. A pharmacy technician prepares a dose of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine. (Mario Tama/Getty Images via Bloomberg News)

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President Joe Biden’s administration will begin to test a program to provide coronavirus vaccines directly to pharmacies, as officials seek to increase the pace of U.S. inoculations.

Biden’s team announced Feb. 2 that they will ship roughly 1 million doses per week directly to about 6,500 pharmacies nationwide as a trial run, beginning Feb. 11. They also will boost shipments to states by 5% to 10.5 million doses per week, up from the 10 million doses announced a week earlier.

“This pharmacy program will expand access in neighborhoods across the country,” Jeff Zients, who serves as Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said at a briefing with reporters. The shipments will increase as supply allows but “due to the current supply constraints, this will be limited when it begins next week,” he said.

CVS Health Corp. will start immunizing people Feb. 11 in CVS Pharmacy stores in 11 states through the federal partnership, the company said in a statement. The pharmacy chain is also working directly with Indiana and Ohio to give shots using their state allocations.

Also giving shots will be pharmacies at stores including Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart and Costco, as well as networks of independent operators. Not all those chains will be immediately taking part in every state, the White House said.

Zients also announced that the Biden administration would expand reimbursements to states for eligible expenses related to the pandemic, dating to the start of 2020. He said this is expected to cost $3 billion to $5 billion and doesn’t require congressional approval, but he called on Congress to pass a new coronavirus aid package.

“We really do need Congress to act to pass the American Rescue Plan to help us expedite our efforts,” he said. “The faster Congress acts, the faster we can scale vaccination sites, mobile units, we can increase testing, we can increase emergency supplies.”

Biden’s team discussed the developments during a call with governors earlier Feb. 2. The number of doses sent to pharmacies in each state will be calculated using the same formula as states’ overall shipments, but the administration has picked pharmacies in rural or underserved regions in a bid to ensure equity in vaccinations, Zients said.

The Trump administration tapped about two dozen pharmacies last fall to participate in the program, which would open thousands of convenient places to get immunized. Initially, the partnership was planned to start when the general public became eligible. It’s now being accelerated to help relieve some of the bottlenecks in getting shots into arms.

The increase in doses — 1.9 million more doses per week to states, plus another 1 million doses to pharmacies — is possible because of increased production by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., Zients said. The vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna require two shots.

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