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11/12/2020

Chains, independents partner with HHS to distribute COVID-19 vaccine

Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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Several leading pharmacy chains and independent pharmacy networks are working with the Department of Health and Human Services to expand access to future COVID-19 vaccines. The agency, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced the second phase of its Federal Pharmacy Partnership Strategy for COVID-19. 

“Ensuring access and affordability of the COVID-19 vaccine for all Americans is a top priority for the Trump Administration,” said HHS secretary Alex Azar. “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.”

Pharmacies participating in the federal allocation program are: Albertsons, Costco, CPESN USA, CVS Pharmacy (including Long’s Drugs), Good Neighbor Pharmacy and AmerisourceBergen’s Elevate Provider Network, Health Mart, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, LeaderNet and Medicine Shoppe, Managed Health Care Associates, Meijer, Publix, Good Lion, Giant Food, Giant, Hannaford, Stop & Shop, Rite Aid, Kroger, Publix Super Markets, Topco Associates, Walgreens, Walmart, Winn Dixie, Harveys and Fresco y Mas. 

HHS noted that pharmacists, pharmacy interns and pharmacy technicians who can administer vaccines are critical public health partners in increasing access and convenience for COVID-19 vaccines. “Since 2012, CDC has worked extensively with pharmacies to improve pandemic preparedness, conduct vaccine throughput exercises, and assess store and organizational response capabilities,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield.  “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.”

The chains involved in the partnership represent roughly 60% of the pharmacies in the 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to HHS. 

“With approximately 70% of the U.S. population living within three miles of a CVS Pharmacy, we’ll be easy to reach when a vaccine is authorized by the FDA and becomes available in retail settings,” CVS Health chief medical officer Troyen Brennan said. “Our pharmacists, nurse practitioners and pharmacy technicians have been an invaluable community resource since the pandemic began and are ready to play a critical role in the vaccination effort.”

CVS Health and Walgreens were among the first pharmacy chains tapped by HHS to provide future COVID-19 vaccines to long-term care facilities' staff members and patients. 

"We are proud of the way our pharmacists and technicians remain steadfast in their dedication to meet customer needs throughout the pandemic and remain committed to leveraging our expertise and nationwide footprint to help accelerate access to COVID vaccines, once available," Walgreens said in a statement. 

HHS' efforts aren't just concentrated on chain pharmacies, though. Independent operators also play a large part in the agency's efforts to make future vaccines as accessible as possible. AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson will be acting as network administrators, placing orders on behalf of their independent pharmacy customers and members of their pharmacy services administrative organizations. 

"From Ready, Set, PrEP to COVID-19 test collection, Health Mart pharmacies continue to lead the charge on our nation’s most complex public health issues. This agreement is yet another illustration of their proven commitment to patients," said Eyad Farah, president, Health Mart and Health Mart Atlas. "The value they provide is significant. It's only right they're included in this honor and responsibility of serving others through this partnership."

“Independent community pharmacies have been fearless and have risen to every challenge that COVID-19 has presented this past year. Independent pharmacies are critical sites of care in their communities year-round and many Americans turn to their local pharmacy for a variety of immunizations annually,” said Brian Nightengale, president of Good Neighbor Pharmacy. “We are beyond proud to help our independent pharmacies gain access to the COVID-19 vaccine. They are already poised to join this next phase in the fight against the coronavirus and continue to support their communities.”

Victor Crawford, Cardinal Health’s pharmaceutical segment CEO said, “Cardinal Health is committed to working with the CDC and our pharmacy customers to ensure a safe and secure COVID-19 vaccine administration network across the United States. The breadth and expertise of Cardinal Health makes us a vital partner to help the country move forward. Pharmacists are serving on the front line of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic and are an important part of our nation's fight against the pandemic."

Currently no COVID-19 vaccine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, Pfizer recently said that its vaccine candidate has shown itself to be 90% effective at preventing the virus in trials thus far. 

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