PORTLAND, Ore. — Following a directive from the Biden administration, local pharmacies will be included in a new wave of vaccine distribution starting next week.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared plans to distribute a million vaccine doses per week to 6,500 pharmacies nationwide. The CDC eventually hopes to reach 40,000 pharmacies as vaccine supply grows.
The task for local pharmacists is a big one.
"Kind of astronomical," pharmacist Ann Walls said.
Walls helps manage Preferred Rx Pharmacy in Vancouver, which is one of the independently run pharmacies under the Health Mart franchise set to receive COVID-19 vaccines in Washington and Oregon.
Walls said her pharmacy is receiving updates from Washington state, but that she has not heard a timeline about getting doses.
"That's the kind of frustrating part for us and our patients," Walls said. "When are we going to get it?"
Brooklyn Pharmacy in Southeast Portland is another Health Mart franchise asking that question. Owner Pat Hubbell is waiting to learn how many doses his staff will receive, how people can get connected and when.
"That we have to answer for ourselves, but we do feel the ball is rolling in the positive direction," Hubbell said.
In Washington and Oregon, Costco, Albertsons and Safeway are also on the list to administer vaccinations.
Both have appointment sign-up forms online, but as of Wednesday, Albertsons and Safeway did not have any available appointments.
People who want a COVID vaccine from a pharmacy must be eligible under their state's priority guidelines.
Smaller businesses such as Preferred Rx Pharmacy said they will reach out to some of those people directly.
"We do have a list of our own patients that we will be contacting once we're good to go," Walls said.
The National Association of Chain Drug Stores said several weeks ago vaccine supply would be a challenge for pharmacies. That remains the case.
However, when supply ramps up, NACDS said pharmacies have an advantage to vaccinate people.
"The pharmacist is the most trusted profession in the country in terms of health care delivery," said NACDS president & CEO Steven Anderson.
Anderson added community access is the key, noting there's a pharmacist within five miles of 91% of the American population.
Ann Walls in Vancouver agrees about this community relationship. She has been a pharmacist since 1996.
"I was actually the first pharmacist to get licensed to vaccinate in the country," Walls said, poised to be part of vaccination history again. "Kind of exciting to have gone through the whole process and see where we are today with how much impact pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are having on vaccinating the public."