Vaccinations through the federal partnership will start on Feb. 11, according to the White House.
“The Centers for Disease Control, which has quite a bit of experience working with pharmacies, is making sure that we are picking pharmacies in that first phase that are located in areas that are harder to reach to ensure that we have equitable distribution of the pharmacy doses,” Zients said.
At least one participant, CVS Health, plans to begin offering vaccinations to “eligible populations” using doses from the federal program on the first day, Feb. 11. The pharmacy chain expects to receive about 250,000 doses that will be rolled out at approximately 330 stores across 11 states including California, Texas, Virginia and New York.
Another participant, Walgreens, will begin using its federal doses on Feb. 12.
The Biden administration is treating the first weeks of the program as a dry run to test if the federal pharmacy program will work before scaling it up, according to one source familiar with planning discussions.
“Eventually, as we’re able to increase supply, up to 40,000 pharmacies nationwide could provide Covid-19 vaccinations,” Zients said.
The cautious approach comes as Biden’s team tries to speed up vaccine distribution while grappling with questions about how many doses are sitting unused in states, trying to help manufacturers increase supply and exploring options such as a federally run mass vaccination sites.
Zients also announced states will be fully repaid for emergency resources and services they’ve purchased or provided — such as masks, gloves and mobilizing the National Guard — since the beginning of the pandemic. The estimated cost is $3 billion to $5 billion.
“They can use the additional resources for vaccination efforts and emergency supplies moving forward,” Zients said.
The federal government has so far shipped nearly 50 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to states, according to CDC data. More than 26 million people have received a first dose of Moderna or Pfizer’s vaccine, and nearly 6 million have been administered their second dose as of Monday.
The Trump administration last November announced the federal government would partner with several independent and chain pharmacies including Albertsons, Rite Aid, Kroger, Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Publix to administer Covid-19 vaccines. Not all of the participating federal pharmacy partners will get doses in the initial phase of the new rollout, according to the White House.
Rachel Roubein contributed to this report.