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Walmart joins the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, while COVAX plans vaccine distribution

One of the vaccines being distributed by COVAX, from AstraZeneca, has 76% efficacy after one dose and 82% efficacy after two.

Mallory Hackett, Associate Editor

Walmart and Sam's Club pharmacies can now accept and administer federally allocated COVID-19 vaccines through the U.S. Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

Beginning next week, select pharmacies in 22 states will receive vaccine allocations. The partnering states include Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Louisiana and Wyoming.

Eligible individuals in those states will be able to schedule a vaccination appointment directly through Walmart or Sam's Club via an online scheduling tool. In addition to appointments, the scheduler will provide a digital reminder when it's time to return for the second dose.

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"We know that achieving widespread COVID-19 vaccination is how we will eventually end this pandemic, and we are ready to serve our communities, customers and associates as we work towards this goal," said Amanda Jenkins, Walmart's vice president of Health and Wellness Operations, in the announcement. "Our pharmacies will continue to support states and the federal government to help increase the accessibility and availability of COVID-19 vaccines for Americans across the country."

EQUITABLE ACCESS

While this will expand access in the U.S., the issue of global vaccine availability remains.

Advocacy organizations like Public Citizen have called on rich countries – especially the U.S. – to make COVID-19 vaccines a "People's Vaccine," meaning it's "a global public good, freely and fairly available to all, prioritizing those most in need here at home and around the world."

COVAX, an initiative co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization, has a similar goal: its mission to guarantee equitable vaccine access for every country in the world.

The coalition will share more than 330 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines with poorer countries in the first half of 2021, with plans to deliver millions more throughout the year, it outlined Wednesday in an interim distribution plan.

COVAX's allocation includes 240 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India, plus 96 million additional doses made by AstraZeneca, as well as 1.2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine.

The initial distribution will cover an average of 3.3% of the total population for the 145 participating countries, the coalition said.

Peter Maybarduk, the director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program, called the COVAX announcement "welcome news," but said more work must be done.

"COVAX's announcement that doses are en route to developing countries is welcome news," he said in a statement. "It is important that the Biden administration follow through on its commitment to join COVAX and support the equitable allocation of available vaccines. However, the quantity of doses is terrifyingly inadequate. For example, the 35 million doses allocated to Latin America represent less than four percent of what experts estimate is needed to control the pandemic."

One of the vaccines being distributed by COVAX, from AstraZeneca, has 76% efficacy after one dose, according to a preprint study published in The Lancet. When researchers waited at least 12 weeks to administer a second dose, that efficacy increased to 82%.

It also can significantly reduce virus transmission, according to the study. By testing volunteers from the U.K. trial weekly, positive PCR tests fell by 67% after one dose and by 50% after two doses.

"This primary analysis reconfirms that our vaccine prevents severe disease and keeps people out of hospital," said Sir Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of BioPharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, in the announcement. "In addition, extending the dosing interval not only boosts the vaccine's efficacy, but also enables more people to be vaccinated up front. Together with the new findings on reduced transmission, we believe this vaccine will have a real impact on the pandemic."

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: mhackett@himss.org