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Walgreens is set to become the county’s newest vaccine distributor, but it’s unclear when doses will arrive, according to the chain’s Chatham employees.
The pharmacy titan — the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain, behind CVS — was introduced last week as North Carolina’s selection for the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. The program is “a collaboration between the federal government, states and territories, and 21 national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks to increase access to COVID-19 vaccination across the United States,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaccines allocated to Walgreens will come directly from the Federal government, according to N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.
“In the coming week — I don’t know if it’s going to be next week or at the end of the week — they will be getting a very small amount of vaccine at a few of their locations,” she said during a press conference on Tuesday.
Statewide, Walgreens expects to receive 31,200 vaccine doses to be spread across 300 of its 356 N.C. locations, as first reported by the Raleigh News & Observer.
A company spokesperson declined to identify which N.C. locations will be among the 300, but stores are being chosen based on the communities they serve, according to the CDC’s social vulnerability index. The index, according to the CDC, uses 15 U.S. Census variables to help local officials “identify communities that may need support before, during, or after disasters.”
Vaccinations are anticipated to begin on Feb. 12, as per a Walgreens press release, but store employees told the News + Record they were unsure whether doses would arrive on schedule.
Two employees of Walgreens locations in Chatham County — speaking on the condition of anonymity — confirmed Siler City’s store, located on U.S Hwy. 64, was among those selected to receive vaccine doses. But staff have been told to expect the shipment sometime after Feb. 12, they said.
“In about two to three weeks we’ll start to see them,” one employee said. “At least no more than a month and we’ll have them here.”
If the process goes smoothly, however, vaccine could arrive earlier.
“There’s a chance by next week they’ll be here,” the second employee said.
It was unclear whether the Pittsboro store, located on East Street, would be receiving doses.
Walgreens’ vaccine allocation will come in addition to those already prescribed for use by North Carolina’s county health departments and the UNC Health system, Chatham County Public Health Department Communications Specialist Zachary Horner confirmed for the News + Record.
“It is my understanding that it is a totally separate thing; it’s going straight from the federal level right to the pharmacies,” he said. “... It’s being allocated straight to them.”
Stores will adhere to the state’s prioritization guidelines in determining vaccine eligibility. Currently, any resident 65 and older can schedule a vaccine appointment, along with all residents of long term care facilities and skilled nursing facilities, workers and contractors at long term care facilities and skilled nursing facilities, front line health workers with high-risk of COVID exposure and others who fall within groups one and two. A more detailed list of qualifications is available on Walgreens’ website or from NCDHHS at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines.
To schedule a vaccination appointment at Walgreens, visit https://www.walgreens.com/findcare/vaccination/covid-19. You will need to set up a Walgreens account and complete an eligibility screening.
Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @dldolder.