Walgreens pharmacies in Illinois will soon receive an additional 39,300 doses of COVID-19 vaccines each week through a federal program announced Tuesday.
Those doses will go primarily to stores near “socially vulnerable and medically underserved areas” based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Walgreens spokeswoman Emily Hartwig-Mekstan said in an email. The doses will supplement those the pharmacy chain already receives through the Illinois Department of Public Health, she said.
Walgreens is getting the additional doses as part of a program announced by President Joe Biden’s administration Tuesday, in which the federal government will deliver vaccines directly to pharmacies starting Feb. 11. During the first week of the program, pharmacies will get about 1 million doses, with expectations that the weekly allocation will increase over time, said White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients during a press briefing Tuesday.
The federal government is working with 21 pharmacy chains and networks, including Walgreens, Jewel-Osco, Walmart, Mariano’s and CVS Health.
Representatives for Jewel-Osco, Walmart and Mariano’s either did not respond to requests for details or had no information Tuesday about how many vaccines they expect to receive. CVS Health will also receive additional doses next week, but not for its stores in Illinois, at least initially. CVS is not currently vaccinating residents at its Illinois stores.
Across the country, vaccines provided through the first phase of the program will go to about 6,400 pharmacies, Zients said. Eventually, the government could deliver vaccines to as many as 40,000 pharmacies, he said.
“I wanted to set expectations appropriately,” Zients said. “Due to the current supply constraints, this will be limited when it begins next week.”
The announcement comes amid frustration over the pace of vaccinations in Illinois. More than 3.2 million people who are ages 65 and older or front-line essential workers became eligible for COVID-19 vaccines when Illinois entered phase 1b on Jan. 25. A little more than 1 million doses had been administered in Illinois as of Tuesday.
But vaccine supply remains extremely limited, which has made it difficult for many in eligible groups to secure shots. People have reported spending hours online trying to get appointments at pharmacy chains, and many have been unable to find spots.
Chicago-area health systems have also started vaccinating patients, but they are moving at different speeds. Some hospital systems have invited all their eligible patients to make appointments, while others are focusing only on those who live in certain areas or are at the highestrisk of getting severely ill with COVID-19.
Zients said the Biden administration will send another 500,000 vaccines to states and territories each week, increasing the total allotment to 10.5 million a week, not including the 1 million that will be sent to pharmacies. And the government will reimburse states an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion for certain expenses they’ve already paid responding to the pandemic, he said.