How direct shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to pharmacies impact Hoosiers

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS — The Biden administration has announced it will begin sending direct shipments of coronavirus vaccines to retail pharmacies as early as Feb. 11.

White House COVID Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients said Tuesday during a briefing that the administration is looking to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Zients said 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines will be distributed to 6,500 pharmacies across the United States starting next week.

“Sites are selected based on their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including socially vulnerable communities,” said Zients.

In addition, the Biden administration announced it is increasing the weekly allocations of vaccine doses by 5%, from 10 million to 10.5 million, which will be sent to states, tribes and territories across the country.

The pharmacies that the federal government is partnering with range from local, independent pharmacies to national pharmacies and supermarkets.

Some of the pharmacies announced include Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Kroger and Meijer. However, the White House said not all of pharmacies announced will be active in every state during the initial phase of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination.

In a statement to FOX59, a spokesperson for Kroger wrote:

We’re honored to be invited into this program. Kroger stores in Indiana and six other states have been selected to participate in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership plan. Our pharmacies in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas and Utah will also be involved, speeding much-needed vaccine to the communities we serve. Specific locations will vary based on vaccine eligibility. Doses per location will vary according to population demographics, in alignment with CDC planning. As vaccine supply grows more Kroger sites will become providers through the FRP Partnership.

Kroger spokesperson

Experts say pharmacies provide an ease of access to people in many areas where hospitals may not be as close, so the move to distribute vaccines directly to pharmacies in Indiana should help reach even more Hoosiers.

“Pharmacies tend to be the most accessible and closest healthcare provider to many communities, especially in our rural parts of the state,” said Darren Covington, executive vice president of the Indiana Pharmacy Association. “It might take some time to drive to the nearest hospital, but there’s probably a pharmacy nearby.”

“When developing this plan and looking at access — it’s such an important thing — you want it as easily available to as many people as possible,” said Thomas Duszynski, director of epidemiology education at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI.

“90% of Hoosiers live within 10 miles of a pharmacy, so that’s huge,” said Duszynski.

Covington said pharmacists are well-equipped and trained to be able to provide immunizations.

“They’re doing that already,” said Duszynski.

With community pharmacies aware they would be a part of the vaccine distribution process for months now, Covington said locations across the state have been planning logistics and putting infrastructure in place long before this announcement was made.

“It basically cuts out the middleman, and it was part of Indiana’s plan to begin with, so this shouldn’t be anything new,” he said.

Covington said this will decrease the amount of time a dose is in a freezer between transport and when it is administered.

“We’ve got to get it in those arms of people as quickly as possible, so if we can eliminate those steps, those kind of in between steps, this is a good thing,” explained Duszynski.

“The rate at which you have to vaccinate people once you get your supply in, is only good for so long, and so that’s one logistical challenge pharmacies have to overcome – anybody administering the vaccine has to overcome,” added Covington.

Duszysnki said having expanded access to vaccinations is crucial.

“We’re in a footrace to try and get vaccines in the arms,” he said. “We have these new variants in the country now that appear to be more infectious, so it literally is a race. How fast can we vaccinate the most vulnerable populations before these variants become the dominant strain across the U.S?

“I turn back to the Indiana’s COVID-19 vaccination plan and this strategy of putting vaccine availability in pharmacies actually increases the footprint that we could reach. So many people in the state of Indiana live within a short distance of one of these pharmacies that they can get to it quicker.

“This is a race we don’t want to be in, but we’re here, and these are methods that we can use to slow this down a little bit and hopefully put an end to this.”

FOX59 also reached out to the Indiana State Department of Health about the announcement Tuesday from the White House.

We welcome additional doses of vaccine in Indiana but continue to support the state-based system of distributing vaccine to ensure that all vaccination sites are following Indiana’s eligibility criteria and to avoid confusion for Hoosiers trying to register for their vaccine. Indiana has created a robust, centralized scheduling platform that allows eligible Hoosiers to register using https://ourshot.in.gov, by calling 211, or by contacting Area Agencies on Aging, libraries or the AARP. Currently, Hoosiers age 65 and older, as well as healthcare workers, first responders and residents of long-term care facilities, are eligible.

ISDH Spokesperson

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