SALINAS — CVS and Safeway pharmacies now offer the COVID-19 vaccine in Monterey County but access is limited to four locations and only as supplies of the vaccine allow.
“CVS is part of the federal program and does not come out of our allocation,” said Karen Smith, a Monterey County Health Department spokesperson. “Safeway is not, and comes out of the allocation.”
The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program is meant to increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine through a collaboration between the federal government, states and territories, and 21 national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks. The program is being slowly rolled out as more vaccine becomes available with a goal of including more than 40,000 pharmacies across the United States.
In early February, CVS announced it would begin administering COVID-19 vaccinations as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program at 100 pharmacy locations in California and initially included only two sites in Monterey County: Carmel and Monterey. After the county Board of Supervisors sent a letter to CVS pointing out that other places in the county have higher infection rates, Salinas was included on the list.
A check on CVS.com of available appointments on Tuesday morning showed that Monterey and Salinas locations were fully booked but Carmel was not included on the list of participating sites in California.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s webpage about the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, certain retail pharmacies nationwide are receiving limited vaccine supply directly from the federal government, which will be used to vaccinate state-selected priority groups at no cost.
The federal government is supplying the vaccine to the pharmacy program, just as it does with the VA Palo Alto supply to the Gourley clinic in Marina for eligible veterans, which does not count against the Monterey County allotment.
The California Department of Public Health has so far allocated 65,650 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Monterey County.
As the federal pharmacy program expands and supply becomes more readily available, allocations may be adjusted to reflect the number of store locations of a pharmacy partner, each partner’s reach and ability to vaccinate.
Pharmacists are trained to counsel patients, administer vaccine and provide vaccine education, and pharmacies are readily accessible in communities with most Americans living within five miles of a pharmacy, according to the CDC web page.
The CDC list of participating retail pharmacies in California included CVS and Rite Aid, though Smith said she is not aware of any Rite Aid pharmacies in Monterey County providing access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
The CVS company’s website says that “Rite Aid is helping to administer vaccines in some areas, but is not currently able to schedule appointments directly.”
Two Safeway locations are listed on the Monterey County COVID-19 Vaccination Registration webpage as its pharmacy’s supply of vaccine comes from Monterey County’s allotment.
The county’s vaccination registration webpage also lists clinics with available vaccine and appointments at Natividad hospital and Mee Memorial Hospital as well as links to the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula portals for vaccine appointments.
Besides CVS and Rite Aid, other pharmacies on the federal retail pharmacy program list include Walgreens, Walmart, Costco, Albertsons and Topco Associates including Nob Hill Pharmacies.
The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program relies on a collaboration with public health agencies — the CDC and state, local and territorial health departments — to encourage individuals to go to pharmacies and get vaccinated.
The CDC recommends that people call or check with local pharmacies to find out if they are going to offer the vaccine when it’s available.
Smith said that as the vaccine becomes more plentiful, expect more pharmacies to offer vaccination appointments.
Currently, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are offered when supplies allow. Both require two doses and are 95% effective. The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage, while the Moderna vaccine only requires refrigeration.
Johnson & Johnson has submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for Emergency Use Authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine, which could be decided by the end of February.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is shown to be 72% effective against mild infection and 85% effective against severe infection of the disease, requires only one shot and can be stored in a refrigerator.
Beginning Wednesday, eligibility for receiving a COVID-19 vaccination in Monterey County expands to individuals 65 and older who work in the food and agriculture, education and child care, and emergency services sectors, along with those 65 and older who reside in ZIP codes with the greatest need — Salinas: 93901, 93905 and 93906, South Monterey County: 93926, 93927, 93930 and 93960, North Monterey County: 95012, 95039 and 95076, and the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur: 93933 and 93955.
People 75 and older and health care workers continue to be eligible for vaccination.
As of Tuesday, there were 239 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Monterey County bringing the total to 41,580, cases currently hospitalized dropped by seven to 72, and two more people died of the disease totaling 309 fatalities.
Contributed by local news sources