COVID-19 Vaccines Set To Ship To Retail Pharmacies Across the Country

Walmart storefront

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Key Takeaways

  • Thanks to a federal partnership, thousands of retail pharmacies across the country will be receiving COVID-19 vaccine doses.
  • Pharmacies may offer more familiarity and proximity for people than other vaccination sites.
  • Pharmacies will follow local regulations for vaccine priority. If you are eligible, check the pharmacy's website for updated information on exactly where you need to go and what you need to have with you.

More people will soon be getting their COVID-19 vaccines at places like Walmart, Costco, and CVS. The federal government will begin to ship doses directly to retail pharmacies on February 11. 

The distribution plan is part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, which connects both national pharmacy chains and independent pharmacies with states and territories to boost vaccination efforts across the country. The program will start with a small number of retail pharmacies and ramp up to about half the pharmacies in the U.S.

A limited number of community pharmacies have already been administering vaccinations as part of state-allocated doses.

The first shipment will include a million vaccine doses to about 6,500 pharmacies around the country, according to Jeffrey Zients, the White House COVID-19 coordinator, who announced the program during a White House briefing for reporters last week. The numbers of doses and pharmacies will increase over time.

“Pharmacies are readily accessible in most communities, with most Americans living within five miles of a pharmacy…it’s an important component to delivering vaccines equitably,” Zients said. “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.”

While neighborhood pharmacies will make the COVID-19 vaccine seem much more within reach for millions of people anxiously waiting, experts warn there may be some frustration. “Navigate it with patience,” Keri Hurley-Kim, PharmD, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California Irvine School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, tells Verywell. “People should understand that pharmacies will be held to vaccinating the same groups as outlined in state and county tiers. Do not expect to be able to skip the line.”

Federal Retail Pharmacy Program Partners

  • Walgreens (including Duane Reade)
  • CVS Pharmacy, Inc. (including Long’s)
  • Walmart, Inc. (including Sam’s Club)
  • Rite Aid Corp.
  • The Kroger Co. (including Kroger, Harris Teeter, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Ralphs, King Soopers, Smiths, City Market, Dillons, Mariano’s, Pick-n-Save, Copps, Metro Market)
  • Publix Super Markets, Inc.
  • Costco Wholesale Corp.
  • Albertsons Companies, Inc. (including Osco, Jewel-Osco, Albertsons, Albertsons Market, Safeway, Tom Thumb, Star Market, Shaw’s, Haggen, Acme, Randalls, Carrs, Market Street, United, Vons, Pavilions, Amigos, Lucky’s, Pak n Save, Sav-On)
  • Hy-Vee, Inc.
  • Meijer Inc.
  • H-E-B, LP
  • Retail Business Services, LLC (including Food Lion, Giant Food, The Giant Company, Hannaford Bros Co, Stop & Shop)
  • Southeastern Grocers
  • Topco Associates, LLC (including Acme Fresh Markets, Associated Food Stores, Bashas, Big-Y Pharmacy and Wellness Center, Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Super One Pharmacy, FRESH by Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Coborn’s Pharmacy, Cash Wise Pharmacy, MarketPlace Pharmacy, Giant Eagle, Hartig Drug Company, King Kullen, Food City Pharmacy, Ingles Pharmacy, Raley’s, Bel Air, Nob Hill Pharmacies, Save Mart Pharmacies, Lucky Pharmacies, SpartanNash, Price Chopper, Market 32, Tops Friendly Markets, ShopRite, Wegmans, Weis Markets, Inc.)
  • GeriMed (long-term care and retail pharmacies)
  • Good Neighbor Pharmacy and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation’s pharmacy services administrative organization (PSAO), Elevate Provider
  • Health Mart Pharmacies
  • Innovatix (long-term care pharmacies)
  • LeaderNET and Medicine Shoppe, Cardinal Health’s PSAOs
  • Managed Health Care Associates (retail and long-term care pharmacies)

Challenges Are Expected 

There are about 90,000 retail pharmacies in the U.S. and fewer than half will be receiving doses according to Zients.

Appointments must be made—at least for now—through a chain’s website or customer service phone number, not on-site. 

Pharmacies are anxious about managing expectations. Chris Krese, the spokesman for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, tells Verywell that pharmacies are excited to be a big part of the vaccination effort in communities, but also worry about a potential limiting factor: enough vaccines. 

"We can meet the challenge so long as we have doses to put into arms," Krese says. 

What This Means For You

If you’re eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and are planning to get vaccinated at your local pharmacy, it’s critical to pay attention to the information that pharmacy provides. Retailers are already posting frequent updates. For example, in a February 2 press release, CVS announced the program would start on February 11, but in a subsequent release, the date had been moved to February 12. 

Each Pharmacy’s Approach Will Be Slightly Different

According to Ilisa Bernstein, Senior Vice President of Pharmacy Practice and Government Affairs for the American Pharmacists Association in Washington, DC, pharmacies are setting up their vaccination stations in different ways, both indoors and outdoors, leveraging their experience from giving flu shots and other vaccines.

"Just like the state and local programs [that began earlier], pharmacies are using different systems for scheduling, and some are easier to navigate than others,” Bernstein tells Verywell. “Pharmacies are getting short lead times [on vaccine deliveries] so patients should keep checking for appointments.”  

Check the pharmacy's website to see if you can fill out paperwork ahead of time and what form of ID to bring with you.

Sending vaccines to pharmacies is just one piece of the strategy the White House is rolling out to get people in the U.S. vaccinated. During a White House briefing on Tuesday, Zients announced that beginning next week, the federal government will also start sending vaccine doses directly to community health centers, which provide primary care services in underserved areas, reaching almost 30 million people.

The White House is expected to roll out other types of vaccination venues, such as pop-up and mobile clinics.

“We’ve got to try everything,” Leana Wen, MD, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, tells Verywell. “Accessibility isn’t the same for everyone and we’ve got to move forward with approaches in order to get as many people vaccinated as we can.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Fran Kritz
Fran Kritz is a freelance healthcare reporter with a focus on consumer health and health policy. She is a former staff writer for Forbes Magazine and U.S. News and World Report.