A healthcare worker wearing a protective mask fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a large scale vaccination site in Sacramento, California, Feb. 4, 2021.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Both versions of the vaccine need to be stored at very low temperatures. After thawing, the vaccine must be administered within hours. In addition, vaccine vials contain multiple doses.
Companies told The Wall Street Journal that they are planning to use waitlists and will consider vaccinating employees who are eligible when excess supplies are available. The goal is to avoid wasting any doses, which continue to be in short supply.
Starting Thursday, vaccine doses are being sent to thousands of pharmacies and grocery stores such as CVS and Walmart in the U.S. This move will start with about 6,500 retail locations and help accelerate the rollout, ensuring that more Americans will be protected from Covid-19.
The companies are scheduling appointments based on the amount of vaccine they receive at each location, but they could find themselves with surplus vaccine if customers don’t show up for an appointment or if a vaccine vial contains more vaccine than anticipated.
Currently only two vaccines, one from Pfizer–BioNTech and another from Moderna, have received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Both types require two doses of the shot to be effective.
The retailers are having to navigate varying state and local rules on eligibility requirements as they manage waitlists and determine what to do with any excess doses. In some states, retail workers qualify to receive the vaccine, while in other states they are not considered a high priority group unless they are above a certain age or have a specific medical condition.
A Walmart spokeswoman told the paper that the retailer has approached shoppers or workers who qualify under a state’s guidelines with an opportunity to be vaccinated if there is surplus supply.
Walmart worked with state health departments on protocols to avoid waste, a Walmart spokesperson told CNBC. These protocols allow excess opened and available doses to be administered to individuals, including employees, who fall under eligible groups in order of priority.
A Walgreens spokesperson told CNBC that they will consider their employees for the remaining doses and will communicate with state and local jurisdictions for doses beyond that.
Meanwhile, pharmacists at CVS will keep a list of qualified patients by state and will use that to determine who receives leftover doses of the vaccine, senior vice president of CVS Health Chris Cox told CNBC.