NEW YORK — As the country races to build up enough herd immunity to finally defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, the momentum in distributing the volume of vaccines to meet that goal got a significant boost recently with news that the Food and Drug Administration approved the Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency use.
Retailers embraced the development. “Walgreens has been at the forefront of administering COVID-19 vaccines since they became available in December,” said president John Standley. “Our pharmacists and technicians have provided more than 3.5 million COVID-19 vaccinations across our most vulnerable populations, including those in underserved communities. Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine provides yet another powerful tool to help turn the tide on this pandemic.”
As part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, Walgreens has been administering a weekly allocation of more than 480,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna to eligible individuals across 28 states and jurisdictions.
For its part, CVS Health just prior to the J&J approval added six states to those in which it is administering vaccines. The company added Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to the list of states where selected CVS Pharmacy locations offer vaccinations to eligible populations through the federal program. This followed the successful February rollout in 11 states: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
“Feedback on every aspect of the vaccination process has been incredibly positive, from the digital experience to interacting with our team of health care professionals,” said CVS president and chief executive officer Karen Lynch. “We’re also making significant progress in reaching vulnerable communities, which will continue to be an essential part of our vaccination effort.”
Rite Aid early last month said it was proud to be an inaugural participant in the federal program. The chain has been receiving direct federal allocations initially in five states and two jurisdictions: California, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and New York City. The company expects to provide vaccinations in all its locations once supply is available.
“With vaccine demand outpacing supply, the establishment of an additional channel for vaccine allocation and distribution is an important and positive first step in the effort to end COVID-19,” said president and CEO Heyward Donigan. “Initially, vaccine appointments will still be difficult to schedule at any provider. However, we expect to see availability of the vaccine improve over time, and Rite Aid stands ready to administer as many vaccines as we are allocated quickly, safely and efficiently.”
And Walmart is hosting a series of community events across the country to administer the vaccine as part of an effort to drive higher vaccination rates in vulnerable communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing the discounter with an allocation of the vaccine for this new effort, which Walmart is launching in partnership with local community leaders and nonprofit organizations.
These events mark an expansion of Walmart’s role with the federal program and are supplementing the retailer’s ongoing vaccination program at more than 1,400 pharmacies nationwide in 35 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., through federal and state initiatives.
Many of the new locations were selected, according to Walmart, after an analysis of area demographics, local health needs and gaps in critical access to medical services. The goal was to pick communities where Walmart can make the greatest impact for populations most in need. The community vaccine events will take place at 43 locations across 18 states, including drive-thru locations in Walmart parking lots.
Other vaccine events will take place at offsite locations, where they will be held in partnership with such community organizations as Casa del Inmigrante/Immigrant Home Foundation, a nonprofit serving immigrants in Las Vegas; the Indianapolis Urban League in Indiana; and Jackson Housing Authority and Wishrock at the Golden Key Envision Center in Jackson, Miss.
Unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, both of which require two separate doses, the J&J vaccine requires only one shot and is easier to ship so it will be less of a logistical lift to get to hard-to-reach areas and adds to the overall stockpile of vaccines available to the general public.
The vaccine, made by J&J’s vaccine arm, Janssen, was tested in advanced clinical trials in more than 44,000 people in the U.S., South Africa and Latin America. Globally, it showed an overall efficacy of 66% in preventing moderate-to-severe disease. In the U.S., this efficacy was 72%, and it was 85% effective in preventing severe disease. No one who got the vaccine died of COVID during the trial.
Top U.S. health officials have said vaccination is the best way to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control. The virus has infected more than 28 million Americans and killed more than half a million.