WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — The Biden administration announced Tuesday it will directly ship COVID-19 vaccines to select pharmacies across the country beginning next week.
Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said the Feb. 11 rollout will start with 6,500 stores receiving about one million doses. The administration hopes to eventually expand to 40,000 pharmacies as production of the shot ramps up.
“This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities. 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.”
Zients also announced the administration will increase the weekly allocation of vaccines going to states, tribes and territories by an additional five percent, totaling a minimum of 10.5 million doses per week.
States can also start receiving reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for pandemic-related expenses, including personal protective equipment and the mobilization of the National Guard. The White House estimates the payments to total between $3 and $5 billion.
These announcements are expected to help alleviate concerns about inadequate vaccine supply state health leaders shared with Congress Tuesday during an oversight hearing.
“They are ready and asking for more,” Dr. Courtney Phillips, the Louisiana Department of Health secretary, said of vaccine providers in her state.
Phillips and other officials told lawmakers they need to know how many shots are available to them, along with additional funding, to make distribution efforts more equitable.
“We don’t want to leave any group behind,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the Illinois Department of Public Health director.
Democrats like Rep. Diana DeGette, D-CO, and Republicans like Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-VA, told the officials they want states to be able to speed up their vaccinations.
“We have no time to lose,” DeGette said. “We must act with a sense of urgency.”
“There is work to be done to vastly improve the rate of doses administered,” Griffith said.
However, Congress has yet to reach an agreement on the next coronavirus relief package.