The federal government has reached agreements with pharmacies across the country to distribute a coronavirus vaccine for free when one becomes available.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the program will reach 60 percent of the pharmacies in every state and U.S. territories like Puerto Rico, including major chains and independent pharmacies to reach traditionally underserved areas.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, so the new agreement is aimed at making sure every American will have access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
Initially, supplies of a vaccine are expected to be extremely limited. States will be distributing them to priority groups like first responders and frontline health workers.
The announcement comes as the U.S. is experiencing a massive surge of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. States reported a record 144,000 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, while more than 1,000 people on average died per day over the past week.
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There is no COVID-19 vaccine yet, but Pfizer gave the public some cause for optimism this week when it announced interim clinical trial results showed its vaccine was more than 90 percent effective. The company could send results to the Food and Drug Administration for authorization by the beginning of next month.
Another front-runner company, Moderna, is expected to announce results of a similar type of vaccine in the coming days.
HHS said the pharmacy partnership is being established in anticipation that one or more COVID-19 vaccines will be authorized or approved and recommended for use in the United States before the end of 2020.
The partnership includes chain stores like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens, pharmacies in supermarkets like Kroger and Publix, and those in big box stores like Costco.