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Dr. Dan Edney of Vicksburg, gives the "thumbs up" after receiving the first round of the Pfizer COVID vaccination,  in conjunction with the Mississippi State Department of Health, Dec. 16, 2020, in Ridgeland, Miss. (AP) Dr. Dan Edney of Vicksburg, gives the "thumbs up" after receiving the first round of the Pfizer COVID vaccination,  in conjunction with the Mississippi State Department of Health, Dec. 16, 2020, in Ridgeland, Miss. (AP)

Dr. Dan Edney of Vicksburg, gives the "thumbs up" after receiving the first round of the Pfizer COVID vaccination, in conjunction with the Mississippi State Department of Health, Dec. 16, 2020, in Ridgeland, Miss. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman December 18, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • Pharmacy chains reached an agreement with the federal government to administer COVID-19 vaccines. But so far they aren’t releasing many details about vaccinating the general public.

  • Hospitals and nursing homes are providing vaccinations to health care workers and patients in long-term care facilities. 

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar predicted that by late February or early March, there will be enough vaccine supply to begin vaccinating the general public at pharmacies.

In 2021, the U.S. will undertake the largest mass vaccination effort in its history. PolitiFact readers have questions about what that effort will look like, including how, when and where the general public will get the vaccine.

When we asked readers to send us their questions on the rollout of the vaccine, Kelli Burns, a University of South Florida communications associate professor, replied with these:

"Who will administer all these vaccines? I’ve heard CVS and Walgreens but they can only accommodate one person at a time right now. Will they set up in larger spaces and hire more staff?"

It seemed like a good time for Ask PolitiFact, an occasional column in which we research readers’ questions. In our effort to answer this one, we found that pharmacy chains aren’t yet revealing details about the logistics of vaccinating the general public, but they are working behind the scenes to expand vaccination.

Pharmacies have partnered with the federal government

In mid-December, the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine were administered to hospital health care workers and to patients in long-term care facilities. If the Food and Drug Administration grants emergency use approval for Moderna’s vaccine as expected, a similar distribution will start next week.

Subsequent phases will include essential workers such as police officers, older Americans and people with medical conditions such as diabetes followed by the general public.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC’s Shepard Smith Dec. 15 that "we’ll have enough supply out there to be reaching out to the general public for administration — at your CVS, Walgreens, Krogers near the end of February into March." President-elect Joe Biden has set a goal of getting 50 million people vaccinated with the two-dose shots within the first 100 days of his administration. 

In November, the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed announced a partnership with chain pharmacies including CVS and Walgreens to distribute the vaccine at pharmacies at no cost to patients.

We contacted some of the pharmacy chains to ask questions about how they will accommodate the general public for vaccinations. Pharmacies generally told us that they couldn’t answer many of our specific questions at this time.

CVS is focused on vaccinating people at 40,000 long term care facilities beginning Dec. 21. But spokesman Mike DeAngelis said that when vaccines are available for the general public, pharmacists and technicians will vaccinate people at their 10,000 pharmacy locations. 

"Vaccinations will be appointment-only," he  said. "When patients register for an appointment on or through our mobile app, they’ll book their first and second shots. Before each, patients will receive frequent reminders based on how they want to be contacted (texts, calls, emails) so they don’t miss either vaccination. We’ll also have a dedicated 800-number for people without online access."

Walmart sent us their Dec. 10 written statement which listed general steps the company is taking, including entering agreements with states and making sure they have freezers in all of their 5,000-plus Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies.

"With 90% of the American population living within 10 miles of a Walmart, we will play an important part in making sure those who want a vaccine can get one when they are eligible based on their state’s prioritization, especially those in hard to reach parts of the country that have recently been hit hard by the epidemic," Walmart said.

Spokespersons for some other pharmacy chains including Publix, Rite Aid and Kroger told us they couldn’t yet answer our questions.

States, cities begin planning for mass vaccination sites

Pharmacies are not the only sites that will administer the vaccine. Nationwide, states and cities are researching possible venues for mass vaccinations. 

Some mass COVID-19 testing sites may transition to providing vaccines. Fort Lauderdale officials told us that they have talked to state officials about the possibility of delivering vaccinations at Holiday Park, a large drive-thru testing site. The state health department operates the site, so state officials are exploring whether to hire vendors to administer the shots or perhaps to use fire rescue paramedics in some capacity.

In New York City, Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said schools will host temporary vaccination clinics  staffed by city employees, including from the local health department, and volunteers. 

"The process is simple," Chokshi said Dec. 3. "Appointments are scheduled. Eligibility is assessed online and after affirming on the day of their appointment that they are symptom free. They can show up and receive a vaccination."

In Orange County, Fla., the University of Central Florida and the county convention center may become vaccination sites. UCF, one of the largest universities in the nation, expects to serve students, faculty and staff at its site with student health services employees administering the vaccine.

Orange County has offered the convention center, currently a testing location, to the state health department to double as a site for a drive-thru vaccination center, county spokesperson Kelly Finkelstein said.

"Both of these efforts are dependent upon our continued partnership with the state, who would provide the tests and vaccinations to support each initiative," she said.

In Louisiana, health departments held outdoors vaccination clinics for the seasonal flu as a test run for COVID-19 shots. At the state fairgrounds in Shreveport, participants rolled down their car windows to get vaccinated, and could buy corn dogs, roasted nuts or lemonade as they left. About 5,000 people got their flu shots at the outdoor clinics. Now, health officials will have to figure out how to adapt that approach for COVID-19 vaccines, which could attract more interest.  Officials expect pharmacies and other locales will provide the shots as well.

States submitted draft vaccination plans to the federal government starting in October which often mention the need to plan for mass vaccination sites, but they offer few if any details. Some plans note where they held mass vaccinations for H1N1 in 2009. For example, Wyoming used national parks, Indian Health Services, prisons and an Air Force base. Wisconsin’s plan floats the idea of using schools. 

Nationwide, the first several months of the mass vaccination campaign will reach those who are at least 16 years old. No vaccine for children has been approved at this time.

RELATED: 8 facts and 4 unknowns about the coronavirus vaccines

RELATED: What are state and federal plans for distributing COVID-19 vaccine?

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Our Sources

University of South Florida professor Kelli Burns, Tweet, Dec. 14, 2020

Operation Warp Speed, Nov. 12, 2020

University of Central Florida, Preparing for a COVID-19 Vaccine, Dec. 7, 2020

Walmart, Walmart is Preparing to Administer the COVID-19 Vaccine Once Approved, Dec. 10, 2020

CVS, CVS Health COVID-19 vaccination information, 2020

Walgreens, COVID-19 vaccine, Dec. 14, 2020

CNBC, HHS Secretary Azar says the public will get Covid vaccine ‘by the end of February into March’ Dec. 15, 2020

CNBC, Here’s when the Covid vaccine could be available at your neighborhood drugstore, grocery store, Dec. 14, 2020

NBC, How to get a Covid vaccine: Everything we know, from cost to effectiveness, Dec. 11, 2020

Fox News 35, UCF, Orange County Convention Center considered for possible mass COVID-19 vaccination sites, Dec. 15, 2020

Bloomberg, Mass Covid Vaccination Gets a Dry Run in a Louisiana Parking Lot, Nov. 21, 2020

Kaiser Family Foundation, Estimates of the Initial Priority Population for COVID-19 Vaccination by State, Dec. 10, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ACIP COVID-19 Vaccines Work Group, Dec. 1, 2020

New York City, Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability, Dec. 3, 2020

Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Covid-19 vaccination plan, October 2020

Wyoming Department of Health, COVID-19 vaccination plan, October 2020

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Statement, Dec. 17, 2020

PolitiFact, Ask PolitiFact: Do you have to get the vaccine if you’ve had COVID-19? Dec. 7, 2020

Email interview, Maria Brous, Publix spokesperson, Dec. 16, 2020

Email interview, Chris Savarese, Rite Aid spokesperson, Dec. 17, 2020

Email interview, Kristal Howard, Kroger spokesperson, Dec. 17, 2020

Email interview, Mike DeAngelis, CVS spokesperson, Dec. 17, 2020

Email interview, Chris Lagerbloom, Fort Lauderdale city manager, Dec. 17, 2020

Email interview, Kelly Finkelstein, Orange County government spokesperson, Dec. 17, 2020

Email and telephone interview, Kevin Litten, Louisiana Department of Health, Dec. 17, 2020

Email interview, James Garrow, Philadelphia Department of Public Health spokesperson, Dec. 15, 2020

Email interview, Jason Mahon, Florida Division of Emergency Management spokesperson, Dec. 17, 2020

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