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.

Since launching on Feb. 11, the program has scaled up incrementally based on the available supply of COVID-19 vaccines. On March 29, the President announcedexternal icon a substantial and rapid expansion of the program – with the goal to activate nearly 40,000 stores enrolled in the network by April 19. As a result, about 90% of Americans will soon have vaccine access through a community pharmacy within five miles of where they live – including in some of the nation’s hardest-hit and highest-risk communities. Increasing the number of places where people can get vaccinated will help ensure more people are protected, ultimately helping us end this unprecedented pandemic.

How the program works

The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program is designed to leverage the strength and expertise of pharmacy partners to help rapidly vaccinate the American public. Through the program, certain retail pharmacies nationwide are receiving limited COVID-19 vaccine supply directly from the federal government. As the supply of vaccine increases, so does the number of retail locations providing COVID-19 vaccination. Pharmacy partners use this supply to vaccinate state-selected priority groups at no cost.

The program began with per capita allocations by each jurisdiction that are 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). From the start, pharmacy partners have been using the social vulnerability index (SVI) when deciding on locations for additional stores to add. With vaccine supply continuing to increase, equity remains a driving factor in expansion efforts. Partners are committed to increasing access to vaccination in our hardest-hit communities.

Who can get vaccinated

Pharmacy partners follow the eligibility criteria of the state in which they are vaccinating, and are able to vaccinate any groups that are listed as eligible by that state. In addition, per a HHS directivepdf iconexternal icon, teachers, school staff, and childcare workers are included in every jurisdiction’s eligibility group for vaccination.

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

Pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program are now required to administer COVID-19 vaccine doses received under the program without regard to residency status. As COVID-19 vaccine supply availability has increased, there is no longer a public health rationale for excluding individuals who are not residents of a state or locality from being vaccinated in another state or locality and residents and others who live in any state or locality should be allowed to get vaccinated in any state.

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

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 is expanding to include nearly 40,000 pharmacies by April 19, it is important to know that while vaccine supply remains limited, some pharmacies may not have vaccine or may have very limited supply.

Each partner is critical to the success of the program

Pharmacy partners select retail locations to receive vaccine based on various factors, including equitable access, demand, supply, and market saturation. CDC continues to collaborate with states and territories to help ensure fair access to COVID-19 vaccine nationwide and to work 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 scales up, intense community outreach remains critical to educating people about the importance of vaccination and where vaccines are available in the communities.

Page last reviewed: April 12, 2021