The launch of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program last week is giving Americans the opportunity to get vaccinated closer to home, while giving stores the opportunity to boost profits — as long as appointments and doses are available and the websites work.
The program, established under the Trump administration but not executed until President Joe Biden came into office, delivers doses from vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna directly to pharmacies experienced in national vaccine distribution.
“It was pretty easy to schedule an appointment, and when we came in here it was very well organized,” Ken Hewitt from Middletown, Connecticut, told NBC News on Friday, after receiving his first shot at CVS. “They checked us in right at the front door.”
Jim Thompson, a 71-year-old retired principal in Penfield, New York, also praised the customer service at CVS.
“It was well done, very well done,” Thompson said. “Especially for an older gentleman, they took their time, they were patient and very kind.”
Employees helped him through the entire process, he said, including showing him how to scan a QR code to complete a preliminary questionnaire and setting him up for text reminders about his second dose appointment.
The new program has already shipped 1 million new doses to retail pharmacies, in addition to the amount already received from any state allocation. Around 6,500 more stores have been added.
CVS, Walgreens and independent pharmacies plan to add more capacity as more doses become available. So far, demand is far outstripping supply.
Appointments are fully booked in 17 of the 18 states where CVS is offering vaccinations, according to its website Thursday.
Walgreens has already administered all the doses from its first allocation, a spokesman said Tuesday, and is on track to receive 180,000 doses per week.
While the rollout is largely an opportunity to serve the public during a national health crisis, there is also a financial upside.
“It’s generating additional foot traffic to the store and these individuals go in and buy other items,” Charles Lindsey, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University at Buffalo School of Management, told NBC News.
Jefferies investment bank estimated that CVS’ involvement in vaccination efforts alone could net the company about $1 billion in incremental gross profits over the next year, CNBC reported last month.
However, high demand for the shots and some technical glitches on the appointment websites mean some Americans found it difficult to book their vaccine appointment.
Allison McLean, a remote worker from Grand Island, New York, said she spent a full day trying to book appointments at Walgreens for her in-laws, but could not because no second dose slots were available and both must be booked at the same time.
“I had it up on my screen most of the day, but people don’t have that kind of time to sit and wait,” she told NBC News.
Technical glitches hamstrung eager shot seekers from Colorado to Ohio to Florida to New Jersey. In Cleveland, Walgreens mistakenly canceled appointments for hundreds. In Colorado, some customers were unable to book both appointments at the same time. Some customers who live near state borders in Massachusetts found the CVS website would only allow them to book an appointment by crossing state lines, which is not allowed. The retailers said they were working on the technical hiccups.
Reached for comment about the glitches, CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said in an email that vaccination appointments, “were filled quickly due to the limited supply we received” and that more will open “as soon as we receive more vaccine.” Walgreens did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for comment.