AILSA CHANG, HOST:
More vaccines will be shipped to America's retail pharmacies starting next week. The Biden administration announced it will ship an additional 1 million doses on February 11. That is on top of the regular allocation going to states for distribution, and it means more consumers will be able to start booking appointments at their local pharmacies. NPR health correspondent Yuki Noguchi joins us now with more.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So how is this program going to work?
NOGUCHI: Well, the federal government will ship this additional supply to 6,500 select pharmacies around the country. And consumers living near those retailers will then go to their pharmacy's website and be able to check to see if they're eligible and whether they have the vaccine in stock. It's important to note that doses are still very limited, even with this added shipment, so officials are still urging patience. But starting next week, more consumers should be able to book appointments.
CHANG: That is great news. OK, you said select pharmacies. How exactly were all these stores chosen?
NOGUCHI: Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, this initial rollout reaches only about 10% of the nation's pharmacies that'll change. But choosing which ones to start with is itself tricky. I mean, the White House's COVID-19 czar, Jeff Zients, emphasized fairness as well as speed were big concerns.
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JEFF ZIENTS: Equity is at the core of how the Center for Disease Control is working with states to select pharmacy partners for this first phase. Sites are selected based on their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including socially vulnerable communities.
NOGUCHI: And one of the benefits, Ailsa, of relying on pharmacies to vaccinate is that they're in every community. Sometimes, pharmacists are the default health care provider in communities where there isn't much access to health care.
CHANG: Totally. But there is a lot of frustration out there about the ability to find out, like, really basic information - where you get a vaccine, when you're eligible to receive a vaccine. Do you think consumers will be able to get more information because of this program?
NOGUCHI: Well, that's the hope. I mean, both the White House and retailers are pointing customers to their local pharmacy websites. And those websites should say which stores have the vaccine, and they should include questionnaires to help guide consumers through the process. So people will have to answer questions like whether they've already had COVID or their age or their occupation. Remember; each state has different eligibility requirements, and those keep changing. But the local pharmacy website is supposed to stay on top of those shifting requirements.
CHANG: So let's say you're someone who's not eligible yet. What happens then?
NOGUCHI: And that's one of the key questions. I mean, consumers want to be notified when their turn is up. And I asked Kathleen Yeager about this. She's a senior vice president at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. She says a pharmacy's website should allow you to sign up for alerts.
KATHLEEN YEAGER: If the eligibility has been changed, then they'll provide you with that alert. Then you know to come back to the website and get yourself an appointment.
NOGUCHI: Yeah, and this kind of retail rollout is something consumers, of course, wanted. Eventually, it may include up to 40,000 pharmacies.
YEAGER: The biggest concern we're seeing is the frustration over supply. So there's not enough appointments (ph).
NOGUCHI: And the White House emphasized that pharmacies are just one of the places you can get vaccinated. They're also hoping to ramp up mass vaccination sites, mobile clinics and community health centers as well.
NOGUCHI: That is NPR's Yuki Noguchi.
Thank you, Yuki.
NOGUCHI: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.