Understanding the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination

Illustration: retail pharmacy setting showing customers in front of a pharmacist

The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination 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. This program is one component of the Federal government’s strategy to expand access to vaccines for the American public.

The program is being implemented incrementally based on the available vaccine supply, with select retail pharmacy locations providing COVID-19 vaccine to eligible individuals. As vaccine availability increases over time, the program will expand to ultimately include all 40,000+ pharmacies.

Who can get vaccinated

Priority populations

On March 2nd the President announced a directive that all states prioritize school staff and childcare workers for COVID-19 vaccination and is challenging states to get teachers, school staff and workers in childcare programs their first shot by the end of March.  To help states do this, the federal pharmacy program will prioritize vaccinating all school staff and childcare workers during the month of March. Teachers and staff in pre-K-12 schools and childcare programs will be able to sign up for an appointment at over 9,000 pharmacy locations participating in the program nationwide.

In addition, aside from reaching teachers nationwide, states and territories will also select which populations who are eligible for vaccination through the program according to their vaccination plans.

I got my COVID-19 Vaccine: Protect against COVID-19.

Teachers, school staff, and childcare workers

COVID-19 Vaccines for Teachers, School Staff, and Childcare Workers
Get more information on who is eligible for vaccination and how to schedule a vaccination appointment.

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit for School Settings and Childcare Programs
This toolkit provides COVID-19 vaccine information to staff in schools and childcare programs.

Eligibility and availability

Individuals who are interested in getting vaccinated at their local pharmacy should check the pharmacy’s website, visit VaccineFinder.orgexternal icon to find out if they are eligible and if vaccine is available. Most pharmacy partners are using online scheduling systems to schedule vaccination visits for those eligible based on their limited available vaccine supply.

CDC has created a web page that lists the pharmacy partners currently participating in the program in each state.

How the program works

As the program begins initial implementation, certain retail pharmacies nationwide are receiving limited COVID-19 vaccine supply directly from the federal government. They will use this supply to vaccinate state-selected priority groups at no cost.

The program will begin with per capita allocations by each jurisdiction that will be divided among the selected pharmacy partners based on number of stores and reach. As the program expands and supply becomes more readily available, the allocation may be adjusted to reflect partner size (number of store locations nationwide), reach (percent of the total US population living within 5 miles of a store location), and ability to vaccinate (throughput).

Program benefits

As the program scales up to eventually include COVID-19 vaccination at all 40,000+ retail locations, it will:

  • Make it easier for individuals to access free COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in their community
  • Improve vaccine uptake while decreasing the logistical and operations burden on state, local, and territorial health departments

Why pharmacies?

Pharmacists are highly trusted and trained healthcare providers who have direct access to and knowledge of their patient populations. 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. Recognizing this, the federal government made them a key part of its COVID-19 vaccination strategy. While the program will ultimately expand to include more than 40,000 pharmacies, it is important to know that early on, when vaccine supply is still limited, many pharmacies may not have vaccine or may have very limited supply.

Each partner is critical to the success of the program

Pharmacy partners will select retail locations to receive vaccine based on various factors, including equitable access, demand, supply, and market saturation. CDC is collaborating with states and territories to help ensure fair access to COVID-19 vaccine nationwide and is working with pharmacy partners to shift vaccine inventory as needed.

The program relies on a collaboration with public health (CDC and state, local, and territorial health departments) to encourage individuals to go to pharmacies and get vaccinated. As the program rolls out, intense community outreach will be critical to educate people about the importance of vaccination and where vaccines are available in the communities.

Page last reviewed: March 3, 2021