Pharmacies Expand Vaccine Role

CVS, Walgreens to start with 40K doses a week

The federal COVID-19 vaccination effort is expanding to CVS and Walgreens stores and grocery-based pharmacies, as many residents, especially seniors over 65, face futility in trying to book appointments. 

CVS began administering 20,600 vaccine doses in New York today (Feb. 12) at 32 locations outside New York City under the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. The program will initially send 1 million doses of the Moderna vaccine directly to 6,500 pharmacies nationwide each week, bolstering what each state is already distributing to pharmacies. 

Walgreens also began administering doses today under the program, allocating 18,600 doses to 187 of its pharmacies in New York City and 10,700 doses to 107 stores in the rest of the state. Retail Business Services LLC, which operates pharmacies at five East Coast grocery store chains, including Stop & Shop and Hannaford, is also vaccinating at some of its New York locations. 

Under state guidelines, hospitals are prioritizing their vaccines for health care workers and local health departments are focused on essential workers such as first responders and teachers. New York also operates 13 mass-vaccination sites, including at the Westchester County Center in White Plains and the Javits Center in New York City, that are open to anyone who is eligible and can book an appointment. (As of Thursday, only SUNY Potsdam had openings, about a six-hour drive from the Highlands.)

But pharmacies have been tasked with vaccinating an estimated 1.4 million New York residents who qualify because they are 65 and over, which is the largest group eligible now for shots. 

Select chain and independent pharmacies, including Drug World in Cold Spring and Rite Aid in Beacon, had already been receiving a portion of the state’s allocation of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, both of which require two shots given weeks apart. Dutchess County’s vaccine webpage lists four Walgreens and six Rite Aid pharmacies that have been giving vaccines, with each location receiving 100 doses each week from the state. 

Finding an Appointment

Vaccines are given at no cost. Pharmacies will bill insurers; the fee for those without insurance is covered by the federal CARES Act Provider Relief Fund. 

CVS
Go to bit.ly/cvsvaccines and click on “New York” to find locations and available appointments. Those without internet access can call 800-746-7287. As of Feb. 11, the site said that its locations in Carmel, Kingston, Poughkeepsie and Stony Point were “fully booked” but that there were openings in counties in western and northern parts of the state.

Walgreens
Residents must create an account at walgreens.com, or log in using an existing account. A check on Thursday using ZIP codes from the Highlands said there were no available appointments “coming up within your area.”

Stop & Shop
Visit bit.ly/stopandshopvaccine to find a location and register for available appointments. As of Thursday, the site said there were no available appointments within 50 miles of the Highlands, Poughkeepsie or Peekskill.

Hannaford
Visit bit.ly/hannafordvaccines. As of Thursday, only stores in and near Albany, Cairo (in Greene County) and Glens Falls were offering vaccinations “in limited supply” and no appointments appeared to be available.

Drug World of Cold Spring
Visit drugworld.com to check for availability and to make an appointment.

Rite Aid
For information, visit riteaid.com/covid-19. While the pharmacy is administering vaccines in many states, usually in partnership with local health departments, the chain says its local stores in New York do not book appointments.

Walmart
See walmart.com/COVIDvaccine. The chain says it has no immediate plans to offer the vaccine in New York.

The federal program represents a significant expansion.

Putnam County Health Commissioner Michael Nesheiwat, addressing the Legislature’s Health Committee on Wednesday (Feb. 10), said that seniors have the best chance of getting vaccinated through their primary care doctors or pharmacies. He said his department received one-time state approval to accept 100 vaccines from a pharmacy and used those doses to inoculate seniors. 

“We are always gladly willing to accept, if the state of New York allows us, vaccine allotments to immunize our seniors,” he said. “We feel what they’re going through.”

Both CVS and Walgreens require that people book appointments through their central websites, not at individual stores, and both are only vaccinating people eligible under state guidelines. In New York State, health care and essential workers, residents 65 and older and those with underlying conditions such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease are eligible. 

About 6,500 of an estimated 40,000 pharmacies are participating in the first phase of the federal program, with additional ones to be added as vaccine production increases, said Kathleen Jaeger, a pharmacist and senior vice president for pharmacy care and patient advocacy for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. 

She said pharmacies selected for the first phase have “per capita the largest footprints” of people who are “most socially vulnerable to COVID.” 

Together, the country’s pharmacies “have the capacity to do 100 million doses in 30 days,” but are limited now by the shortage in supply, Jaeger said during a news conference on Feb. 5. “We certainly are urging everyone out there, especially those that really want to get this vaccine, to have patience.” 

Patience, however, is also in short supply, especially for seniors competing for limited doses. 

A woman who answered the phone for the pharmacy at Rite Aid in Beacon on Wednesday said the store was booked into March for vaccine appointments and was not offering new slots. Drug World, one of the few independent pharmacies approved to give shots, announced on Monday that it would have no additional first doses for the week. 

Putnam County’s website crashed on Wednesday when the Health Department posted a link for appointments available the next day. The slots filled in about 30 minutes, said Kathy Percacciolo, the supervising public health nurse for the Health Department.

Putnam County receives 200 first doses to distribute each week, plus another 100 designated for facilities serving people with developmental disabilities. The county has administered first doses to 1,519 people and second doses to 593, said Percacciolo, but could “easily” vaccinate 500 people an hour, she said. 

“People just have to keep trying,” she said. “I wish there were a better way for us to do this, but there just isn’t right now.” 


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