How the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program May Affect the COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout
Pharmacy Times® interviewed Kurt Proctor, PhD, RPh, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at the National Community Pharmacy Association, on how the Biden administration’s launch of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program may affect the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination rollout.
During this discussion, Proctor addresses barriers to access or other issues to consider for pharmacies interested in administering COVID-19 vaccines, how the implementation of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program by the Biden administration may affect the vaccination rollout timeline, and whether additional vaccine options from Astrazeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax may help President Biden achieve his goal of 100 million shots in arms in his first 100 days in office.
Alana Hippensteele: Are there any barriers to access or other issues to consider for pharmacies interested in administering COVID-19 vaccines through this program or through a future rollout?
Kurt Proctor: Right. The biggest thing right now is vaccine supply. This program has got about 40,000 pharmacies in it, I believe, and only 6,500 of those will get any vaccine at all, and even though most of them will just be getting 100 doses, some of the chains have consolidated their doses into fewer stores. So, they may have more volume at a store, but overall folks have got 100 doses per store, which is well below their capacity in terms of what they could be doing in a week's time.
So, what's inhibiting anything is just purely the supply, and I think that's understandable. Look at how fast these vaccines were developed—I think manufacturers are doing everything they can to get as much vaccine out as quickly as they can, but there's a tremendous capacity underutilized at this point in the pharmacy community to be delivering these vaccines, and folks have talked about upwards of 140 million between the chains and the independents of what could be done in a month, so we're way below that at this point of getting a million doses into the pipeline a week right now. So that'd be 4 million a month, and we could probably do 140 million, so there's a long way to go, there's a lot of capacity.
Alana Hippensteele: So, are you thinking that with the implementation of this federal program, that goal of administering 100 million shots during President Biden's first 100 days in office is achievable? Is that what you're thinking?
Kurt Proctor: Well, it's definitely achievable from a capacity to—as we say these days this phrase so much—get needles in arms, but so that's all about the supply of vaccine. I mean that's the only issue is a supply of vaccine, and from our perspective, making sure that the administration uses this existing infrastructure of pharmacies that are able to do that. If they do that, and the volume is there, they'll be able to achieve numbers like that. I haven't figured out exactly what his 100 days is and when that exactly will be, but it feels like we may not have enough vaccine to do that, but the capacity is there to do it if we have the vaccine.
Alana Hippensteele: Right. Do you think access to additional vaccine options such as Astrazeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax may help President Biden achieve his intended goal of 100 million shots in that maybe 100-day period, or do you expect the benefit from these additional vaccines to potentially be seen later maybe coming into the summer?
Kurt Proctor: Well, I'm much more focused on meeting the patient needs rather than Biden's 100 days. I just haven't done the math around that, that's not that's not the most important element of this to me. It's about taking care of these patients and getting the vaccine to them, and it's certainly to the extent that more manufacturing more vaccine comes on the market.
Again, the best way to use that vaccine is to get it to pharmacies as that’s who patients rely on for flu shots. You look at the CDC data, that's where they get their flu shots—that and physicians’ offices. I know physicians’ offices are anxious to get the vaccine as well, but we see a lot more telemedicine now. Folks are not in a position to go to their doctor’s office as much, and we certainly don't discourage anybody from going to their physician’s office by any means, but what has been there throughout the pandemic and continues to be there is the capacity of community pharmacies to deliver this vaccine, and so to the extent that new manufacturers bring new volume, it definitely helps, there's no question about that.