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A new federal COVID pharmacy program expands the locations where people may get vaccinations by relying on a collaboration between the federal and state governments with national and independent pharmacy networks.

It is designed to increase the access to COVID-19 vaccines across the nation.

Other vaccinations

But in Fallon County, the Baker Rexall Drug pharmacy in downtown Baker will not be participating.

According to the new owners of the local drug store, the success of the county health department and the Fallon Medical Complex have been successful handling the distribution of the vaccine in the area.

Co-owner Alyse Webber said that people can get other vaccines at the Baker Rexall Drug Store on Main Street from the pharmacist, but that she didn’t feel there was a need to participate with the COVID vaccination program at the local level.

“We won’t be giving any COVID vaccines until all the vaccines from those two facilities is used up,” she said.

Webber, who had been working there since 2016 before recently purchasing the business, stressed that the vaccines were readily available to residents by the County Health Department and FMC as they get the supply.

“We give flu shots. We also do pneumonia and shingles vaccines – they are the most common. We can do a variety of other vaccines as well...like hepatitis... preventative things like that,” she said.

“There is no appointment necessary, but it good for them to contact us prior to coming in,” Webber said. “That way, we can make sure we can bill it and make sure it is covered.” The people also need to bring in their insurance card and personal information.

Montana expands

In Montana, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced that the state is participating in the program to extend the availability of the vaccines throughout the rural areas.

A federal order has made sure Montana teachers will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, prompting independent pharmacies across the state to announce upcoming vaccination clinics for some school districts. They will also be able to get a vaccine through retail chain pharmacies.

Starting March 8, teachers and daycare workers have been among those added to the list in the Phase 1B plus category for vaccinations through the pharmacies.

Under Montana’s state vaccination plan, teachers and child care workers would not have been eligible to receive the vaccine until Phase 1C, following changes to the state’s vaccination plan by Gov.  Gianforte that prioritized high-risk individuals and bumped teachers.

Expanding vaccines

According to the Center for Disease Control, the 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.

“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,” the CDC explained on its website.

“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.”

Under the federal program, as the program begins its 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.

In addition, 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 (throughout).

The program also got an expanded role recently.

“On March 2, 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,” the CDC explained on its website.

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.

According to the CDC, the new program is designed to make it easier for individuals to access free COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in their community. In addition, the plan is to improve vaccine distribution while decreasing the logistical and operational burden on state, and local health departments.

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