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Thousands Of Pharmacies Prepare To Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines


As of today, some retail pharmacies will allow eligible consumers to book appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine. On Thursday, these pharmacies will begin administering vaccines. The goal is a million doses a week to start. Now, there are far more people who want appointments than will get them, and that's leading to a lot of consumer frustration and questions. So joining us to talk through some of those questions is NPR health correspondent Yuki Noguchi. Hi, Yuki.


PFEIFFER: And tell us, where exactly will these vaccines be available?

NOGUCHI: Well, to start, these new doses will go to 6,500 pharmacies around the country, which is only about 10% of all pharmacies. And federal and state officials are starting with the stores in the highest priority areas. Those are areas particularly vulnerable to COVID because of age or race or access to health care.

PFEIFFER: And what should consumers do if they want to figure out if their local pharmacy - whether it's a CVS, a Walgreens, a Duane Reade, something else - is one of those pharmacies that will get vaccines?

NOGUCHI: Yeah. Yeah, it's a big question. The first step, in many cases, is to check with your local public health site to see whether you're eligible. You know, one of the factors complicating rollout is the fact that different states and localities have to find their own priority population. So you have to know what yours are, where you are. And if you are eligible, in many cases, those sites will also point you to a list of participating pharmacies, so you can go directly - or you can go, you know, directly to your local pharmacy's website. Many, if not most, pharmacies will have online tools to help guide customers through this process - you know, eligibility and booking. And the biggest problem that people will have and have already had in trying to get vaccines so far is that there just isn't enough - you know, not enough doses so not enough available appointments. Surprisingly, this affects even people like Kevin Ban. He's a top executive at Walgreens, and he still hasn't been able to get his mom an appointment at the clinic or a doctor's office yet.

KEVIN BAN: Look, hey, I'm the chief medical officer of Walgreens. And I've not been able to get my mother or my uncle an appointment yet, and that's just the reality of the situation.

PFEIFFER: Yuki, if even he cannot get an appointment, that is not promising for the rest of us. So if we're not yet eligible, what should we do?

NOGUCHI: Well, if you're not yet eligible, you may be able to sign up for an alert from your county or your pharmacy chain. You know, lots of consumers told me they're trying to sign their parents up out of state, and so it's the same deal for that. Check local rules to get notified when they're eligible, and then you can start hunting for appointments for them.

PFEIFFER: And how will we know which stores have supplies or if there's a waitlist?

NOGUCHI: Yeah, so there's a site called It's an existing CDC-funded site that will track the supply at each vaccination site, and it's supposed to be updated daily. But that's not yet live for the COVID vaccine. Online waitlists - also not yet live. Walgreens told me it's hoping to set one up but hasn't yet. So you have to keep checking their site at the moment. Some small retailers may create waitlists, you know, the old-fashioned way. Independent pharmacies are often smaller operations and know their patients personally. So Kurt Proctor is a senior vice president at the National Community Pharmacists Association. And he says, because of that personal relationship, in many places, it's the pharmacists that are actually calling the patients to let them know they're eligible and getting them booked that way.

KURT PROCTOR: Some, they may have just been in the pharmacy and been handwritten, put out a waitlist in the store.

NOGUCHI: So, you know, the two words of advice I've heard most often were patience and persistence, and both are key here, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: Patience and persistence. That's NPR's Yuki Noguchi. Thank you very much.

NOGUCHI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Science Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She started covering consumer health in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on everything from vaccination and racial inequities in access to health, to cancer care, obesity and mental health.