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Biden administration teaming up with pharmacies to get vaccines to underserved populations

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Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

The Biden administration announced a new partnership between the federal government and retail pharmacies on Tuesday, which will provide vaccines directly to selected pharmacies. This is a different program than the one that has been used to vaccinate residents and workers at long-term care facilities, and is intended to increase access to vaccines in a way that addresses equity concerns.

An analysis of vaccination data from 17 states published by the Kaiser Family Foundation found Black and Hispanic Americans were being vaccinated at much lower rates than their white counterparts.

The report notes that nationwide vaccine rollout is still in an early stage, but says the available data raises “some early warning flags about potential racial disparities in access to and uptake of the vaccine.”

Pharmacies participating in the new program include locations of major chain stores, including selected Walgreens, Walmart and Hy-Vee stores, as well as independent pharmacies and hospital-based ones.

The locations were selected “based on their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including socially vulnerable communities,” Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“The Centers for Disease Control, which has quite a bit of experience working with pharmacies, is making sure that we are picking pharmacies in that first phase that are located in areas that are harder to reach to ensure that we have equitable distribution of the pharmacy doses,” Zients said. He added that the CDC will be monitoring data from the pharmacies in order to assess if the program is resulting in a more equitable distribution of vaccine.

The program will begin on Thursday. Because of the limited supply of vaccine available, the federal government will start by shipping 1 million doses to 6,500 pharmacies nationwide this week.

“Eventually, as we’re able to increase supply, up to 40,000 pharmacies nationwide could provide Covid-19 vaccinations,” Zients said.

“The program will begin with per capita allocations by each jurisdiction that will be divided among the selected pharmacy partners based on number of stores and reach,” according to the CDC. “As the program expands, and supply becomes more readily available, the allocation may be adjusted to reflect partner size (number of store locations nationwide), reach (percent of the total U.S. population living within 5 miles of a store location), and ability to vaccinate (throughput).”

In Iowa, Hy-Vee pharmacies and pharmacies that are part of the CPESN network are currently participating in the program. The CPESN network includes 24 pharmacies in eastern Iowa, such as the Towncrest Pharmacy in Iowa City, North Liberty Pharmacy and Clark’s Pharmacy in Cedar Rapids. CPESN has a look-up tool listing network members on its site.

State rules regarding who is eligible for vaccination still apply to the new program. Currently in Iowa, everyone 65 and older, as well as workers in Tier 1 of Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination program qualify. Tier 1 covers first responders and child welfare workers, PreK-12 teachers and school staff, early childhood educators and childcare workers.

The CDC recommends that people eligible for vaccination should check the websites of participating pharmacies to find out if vaccine is available.

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