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Pharmacy chains want to help as nation struggles to vaccinate people

CNN logo CNN 1/14/2021 By Gregory Lemos and Samira Said, CNN
a man and a woman walking down a street in front of a building: CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 30: People stand outside of a Walgreens store in the Loop on April 30, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. On May 1, the state of Illinois will begin requiring everyone to wear a face mask in public when social distancing is not possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19. The state is currently on a "stay at home" mandated by the governor until May 30. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) © Scott Olson/Getty Images CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 30: People stand outside of a Walgreens store in the Loop on April 30, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. On May 1, the state of Illinois will begin requiring everyone to wear a face mask in public when social distancing is not possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19. The state is currently on a "stay at home" mandated by the governor until May 30. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The US may be struggling to vaccinate citizens against coronavirus, but pharmacy chains say they can help speed up the balky rollout.

Pharmacists nationwide will have the capacity to administer 100 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine once supply is available, Steven Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores said Wednesday.

"Based on conservative assumptions, pharmacies have the capacity to meet the demand for 100 million vaccine doses in one month when that level of the vaccine supply is available," Anderson told reporters on a phone call Wednesday.

So far, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US has vaccinated only about 10 million people, and distributed just over 29 million doses of vaccine. States say they are struggling to vaccinate people, in part because of lack of public health infrastructure.

Pharmacy chains say they can help fill that gap.

NACDS represents 40,000 pharmacies and 155,000 pharmacists, according to Anderson. The group says 90% of Americans live within five miles of a retail drug store and the "dormant" Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program could open the door to harnessing the capacity of chain pharmacies.

"America's retail pharmacies can easily administer 100 million vaccine doses in 30 days," the group said in a statement.

"This solution could easily be ramped up even further as stores deploy more vaccinators -- pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, pharmacy interns, nurses, clinic physicians, EMTs and others."

Individual chains laid out their own optimistic plans Wednesday.

Walgreens expects to administer 30 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine in the US by the end of this summer, once vaccines are available to the wider population.

The drugstore chain is hiring and training staff and increasing digital and phone booking capabilities in preparation for the wider vaccine rollout.

"We're making sure that everyone is ready to get after this as soon as the vaccines become available en masse, which we believe will be probably March, April," Walgreens Chief Operating Officer Alexander Gourlay said at the JP Morgan 39th Annual Health Care Conference.

By the end of this summer, Gourlay estimated, 300 million doses of vaccine will have been administered across the country -- enough to vaccinate 150 million people -- and retail pharmacies will administer about 100 million of those doses.

CVS has even more ambitious plans to administer 100 million doses.

"We're very hopeful that the federal program will open up soon and open a more direct distribution into pharmacies across the country, which will open up access," CVS Executive Vice President Karen Lynch told the JP Morgan Health Conference.

Lynch said CVS currently has the ability to administer 25 million vaccinations a month, or roughly a million a day, through its retail locations across the country.

"We have a large reach," Lynch said, saying the company's 10,000 stores can reach 85% of the American population.

In this early phase of the vaccine rollout, CVS has been administering vaccines inside long-term care facilities after states allocate the doses under contract with the federal government. Lynch said the pharmacy chain is just coming up on 1 million vaccines administered this week in long-term care facilities.

"We can open up the aperture to get more shots in the arm as soon as the federal program is fully in play," she said.

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