Medical assistant Shalice Wheeler, left, administers Covid-19 vaccine to physician assistant Matt Ferraro. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group via Getty Images)
Medical assistant Shalice Wheeler, left, administers Covid-19 vaccine to physician assistant Matt Ferraro. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group via Getty Images)

New groups join CVS and Walgreens, expanding state’s vaccination network.

RICHMOND – Six pharmacy chains will join Virginia’s vaccine distribution next week. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam delivered that news during a COVID-19 update Wednesday. 

“CVS started vaccinating certain Virginians a couple weeks ago, and Walgreens will start later this week,” said Northam. “More pharmacies are coming online this week to start giving shots.” 

In addition to CVS and Walgreens, starting next week the companies that own Safeway, Food City, Giant, and Walmart will begin distributing the vaccine. According to Northam, a network of independent pharmacies will also help distribute the vaccine.

“They’ll share a federal allotment of the Moderna and Pfzier vaccines. Not all of the locations for each of these companies will be receiving the vaccines. Locations are decided by the companies in consultation with our Virginia Department of Health, to focus these efforts on high risk and vulnerable communities,” Northam said. 

How To Get The Vaccine

But, people can’t just head to their local grocery store for a shot. First, Virginians need an appointment to get the vaccine. In order to get an appointment, they must first pre-register. Pharmacies across the Commonwealth, in coordination with local health districts, will then use the list of pre-registered recipients to schedule appointments. 

To preregister, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-INVA. If you’ve already submitted your pre-registration there or through your local health department, you don’t need to register again. However, you can check your status by visiting the website if you’re unsure. 

Right now, the Virginia Department of Health and the pharmacies it’s partnering with are prioritizing applicants who are 65 years old or older. Pharmacies will begin calling qualified applicants next week, according to Northam. 

“This week, the call center’s making outbound calls to schedule appointments for Walmart and Giant. Call center workers are calling people in Virginia’s pre-registration database. So, when your phone rings, you need to please answer it,” said Northam. 

Instead of vaccinating people in their stores, Walmart will be holding vaccination clinics at offsite, outdoor locations. Where these clinics are located will change every week depending on which communities need it most, according to Northam. Using this model, Northam says Walmart will vaccinate several hundred people every day. 

RELATED: How Do I Sign Up? Virginia’s Vaccine Registration Website Launches

Biden Calls For Federal Partnership With Pharmacies

This change in Virginia’s vaccine distribution plan happened after President Joe Biden’s announcement in early February that the federal government is partnering directly with pharmacies to help distribute it. 

Through this partnership, according to Northam, Virginia is receiving a total of 52,000 doses of the vaccine every week. 

The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

On top of that, starting next week Northam says Virginia is soon expecting to receive 50,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on a weekly basis. 

“All of these vaccines are shown to reduce serious illness and death from the virus,” Northam said. 

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) gave the Johnson & Johnson vaccine its final approval on Wednesday. This vaccine is 66.1% effective overall in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 symptoms, according to the FDA. Though that’s lower than the other two vaccines, Northam stresses during his press conference Monday that everyone should take whatever they’re offered.

“The best vaccine is the one you get,” said Northam. 

72 Weeks To Go 

Right now, 13.5% of Virginia’s population has a COVID-19 vaccine. At the rate Northam is indicating Virginians will receive vaccines, which totals 102,000 a week, it will take 72 weeks, or about 1.3 years, to vaccinate everyone in the Commonwealth. 

Until everyone gets the vaccine, it is critically important that everyone continues to wear masks, practice social distancing guidelines, and wash their hands in order to mitigate the spread of the virus and its more contagious variants.