HHS enlists food and drug chains to boost COVID-19 vaccine access

About 60% of U.S. pharmacies could administer free coronavirus immunizations under partnership program


Russell Redman, Supermarket News 

Nov 13, 2020


With several COVID-19 vaccines on the way, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is partnering with large chain pharmacies across the food, drug and mass retail channel and independent pharmacy networks to ensure wide consumer access to the eagerly awaited immunizations.


HHS said yesterday the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Strategy for COVID-19 Vaccination program will provide coronavirus vaccine coverage across about 60% of pharmacies in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Via partnerships with network administrators, independent pharmacies and regional chains will also be part of the federal pharmacy program, which HHS noted will help provide COVID-19 vaccination access in traditionally underserved areas.


The initiative is part of Operation Warp Speed (OWS), the federal government’s project to accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics by working with private firms and coordinating efforts among HHS, the Department of Defense and other federal agencies.


"The vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar.


“Ensuring access and affordability of the COVID-19 vaccine for all Americans is a top priority for the Trump Administration,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “We are leveraging the existing private-sector infrastructure to get safe and effective vaccines supported by Operation Warp Speed into communities and into arms as quickly as possible with no out-of-pocket costs. The vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, and our new agreement with pharmacy partners across America is a critical step toward making sure all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines when they are available.”


Over the past couple of months, HHS has taken steps to make it easier for pharmacies nationwide to administer COVID-19 immunizations.


In September, the department issued guidance authorizing state-licensed pharmacists to order and administer Food and Drug Administration-approved coronavirus vaccines to people ages 3 and older. State-licensed or registered pharmacy interns also were authorized to administer the vaccines under the supervision of a pharmacist. Then in October, HHS expanded its authorization to enable qualified pharmacy technicians and state-authorized pharmacy interns to administer childhood and COVID-19 vaccines, as well as COVID-19 tests.


“Since 2012, CDC has worked extensively with pharmacies to improve pandemic preparedness, conduct vaccine throughput exercises, and assess store and organizational response capabilities,” according Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a unit of HHS. “Through these partnerships, we will leverage established relationships to support our critical public health mission of vaccinating the American public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”


Chain and community pharmacies and pharmacy networks partnering with HHS on the COVID-19 vaccine access program include Ahold Delhaize USA, Albertsons Cos., Costco Wholesale, CPESN USA, CVS Health, Good Neighbor Pharmacy (AmerisourceBergen), Health Mart (McKesson), H-E-B, Hy-Vee, The Kroger Co., Medicine Shoppe/Leader (Cardinal Health), Meijer, Publix Super Markets, Southeastern Grocers, Walgreens and Walmart.


A host of regional food and drug retailers also are serving as federal pharmacy partners for coronavirus vaccinations via Topco Associates, including Acme Fresh Market, Big Y Foods, Brookshire Grocery, Coborn’s, Hartig Drug, King Kullen, Food City, Ingles Markets, Price Chopper, Raley’s, Save Mart Cos., SpartanNash, Tops Friendly Markets, ShopRite, Wegmans Food Markets and Weis Markets.


According to HHS, pharmacy partners will directly order and receive allocations of COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government. The immunizations will be provided at no cost to the pharmacy operators and be administered free to consumers at retail locations...