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COVID-19 vaccine might not be available in CVS, Walgreens by February, CDC director says

New CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday that it’s unlikely the COVID-19 vaccine will be in CVS and Walgreens by February.

In this Jan. 15, 2021, file photo, CVS Pharmacist Gerard Diebner prepares COVID-19 vaccine for nursing home residents at Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York.
In this Jan. 15, 2021, file photo, CVS Pharmacist Gerard Diebner prepares COVID-19 vaccine for nursing home residents at Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York.
Associated Press

The novel coronavirus vaccine likely won’t be available in pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens and more by February as originally promised, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What’s going on?

Walensky told the “Today” show on Thursday that it’s unlikely the COVID-19 vaccine will be in Walgreens or CVS by February.

  • “We are going to, as part of our plan, put the vaccine in pharmacies. Will it be in every pharmacy in this country by that timeline? I don’t think so,” Walensky said. “I don’t think late February, we’re going to have vaccine in every pharmacy in this country.”
  • “After 100 days, there are still a lot of Americans who need (the) vaccine, so we have our pedal to the metal to make sure that we can get as much vaccine out there,” she said. “We recognize this is the most immediate emergency to get this country back to health.”

Context

Trump administration Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC in mid-December that the vaccine would reach pharmacies by that time.

  • “I believe by the end of February, the end of March, of course, depending on the decisions by our governors, but I believe we’ll have enough supply out there to be reaching out to the general public for administration — at your CVS, Walgreens, Kroegers — by the end of February into March,” he told CNBC.

Grim issues ahead

Walensky said “healthier days lie ahead” in the pandemic even though she said there could be 508,000 total U.S. deaths from the pandemic by Feb. 13, as I wrote for the Deseret News.

Walensky said the COVID-19 deaths are only half the story because people still suffer from symptoms months later, as I wrote for the Deseret News.

“That doesn’t speak to the tens of thousands of people who are living with a yet uncharacterized syndrome after they’ve been recovered,” she said. “... And we still yet haven’t seen the ramifications of what happened from the holiday travel, from holiday gathering in terms of high rates of hospitalizations and the deaths thereafter. So, yes, I think we still have some dark weeks ahead.”

How pharmacies could help

Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on “Face the Nation” in early January that CVS and Walgreens could help vaccine rollout.

“Make the vaccine more generally available through the retail pharmacies, through Walmart and Walgreens and CVS to a broader population, to a general population starting with age,” Gottlieb said. “We can walk it down the age continuum, make it available for 75 and above first, then 70 and above, and 65 and above. There’s 50 million Americans 65 and above, a large percentage of them probably want to be vaccinated. At some point, we need to allow supply to meet demand here and get the shots into the arms of the people who really want to get vaccinated and are going to go out and seek out the vaccination.”