Understanding the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination

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

Federal Retail Pharmacy Program Highlights
  • As of Sept. 8, nearly 127 million doses have been administered and reported by retail pharmacies across programs in the U.S., which includes 8 million doses administered through the Pharmacy Partnership for Long Term Care Program.
  • A total of 21 retail pharmacy partners are participating in the program, with more than 41,000 locations online and administering doses nationwide. This includes long-term care pharmacies.
  • During the past two weeks, 49% of people vaccinated through this program have been from a racial or ethnic minority group.

Understanding the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination

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, and now includes 40,000 stores. 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 has increased, so has the number of retail locations providing COVID-19 vaccination. Pharmacy partners use this supply to vaccinate eligible individuals at no cost.

The program began with per capita allocations by each jurisdiction, divided among the selected pharmacy partners based on number of stores and reach. As the program has expanded and supply has become more readily available, pharmacy partners are able to shift some of their allocation to optimize supply and meet equity needs. 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 is a driving factor in expansion efforts. Partners are committed to increasing access to vaccination in our hardest-hit communities.

Who can get vaccinated

Everyone 12 years of age and older is now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can. Widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop the pandemic.

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

Covid-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens
Get more information about COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens.  

Eligibility and availability

Everyone 12 years of age and older is now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Individuals who are interested in getting vaccinated at their local pharmacy should check the pharmacy’s website, or can visit Vaccines.gov. Additionally, most pharmacy locations are now offering walk-in vaccination appointments as supply allows.

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

Program benefits

Now that the program has scaled up to include COVID-19 vaccination at about 40,000 retail locations, it:

  • Makes it easier for individuals to access free COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in their community
  • Improves 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 has expanded to include 40,000 pharmacies, it is important to know that markets may vary, and 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. Community outreach remains critical to educating people about the importance of vaccination and where vaccines are available nearby.

Page last reviewed: September 15, 2021