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Missouri's Walmart, Sam's Club Pharmacies Will Start Carrying Coronavirus Vaccines This Week

Doctors say they don't know how many doses of the coronavirus vaccine they will receive from the federal government until days before they arrive.
File photo / Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio
Doctors say they don't know how many doses of the coronavirus vaccine they will receive from the federal government until days before they arrive.

Missourians eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine will be able to sign up for a shot at local pharmacies.

Officials from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on Tuesday announced that starting this week, the federal government will send doses to 81 Walmart and Sam's Club pharmacies across the state.

The federal government will next ship doses to 21 Health Mart Pharmacies in Missouri.

“This partnership will be a great help in expanding vaccine access and getting more doses into arms as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Gov. Mike Parson said.

Illinois and other states have recently begun using commercial pharmacies to distribute the vaccine, but Missouri has been relying on health departments, mass vaccination sites and hospitals to give people shots.

The partnership is part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, in which the federal government ships vaccine doses to 21 participating national pharmacy chains. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the program will eventually include 40,000 pharmacies nationwide.

The government will send 18,000 doses to the 102 Walmart and Health Mart pharmacies each week. That’s in addition to the state’s weekly allotment of approximately 75,000 doses, which are distributed among hospitals, mass vaccination events and local health departments.

Two of the Walmart pharmacies, one in Ferguson and one in Shrewsbury, are in the St. Louis region. Most of the others are in rural counties.

Critics say that’s shutting out many of the city’s poor people who need the vaccine most. While there are several Walmarts in the St. Louis suburbs, there are none within city limits. There are only three Health Mart locations within St. Louis.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson sent a letter to Parson last week asking him to include Walgreens and CVS pharmacies in plans to vaccinate residents at retail pharmacies.

“The number of approved pharmacies is insufficient to meet the needs of our residents and increases the vulnerability of the City of St. Louis to prolonged consequences of COVID-19,” Krewson wrote.

The state's plan is shortsighted, said Ruqaiijah Yearby, a law professor and co-founder of the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity at St. Louis University.

“What you’re saying is you haven’t taken into consideration racial equity,” Yearby said. “When you’re locating the vaccine in areas where people need to drive to, that erects a significant barrier.”

Some of the places with the highest rates of infection, such as certain ZIP codes in north St. Louis County, are the places where people are the most poor, she said.

“If you’re trying to stop a virus, you go to places that have the highest rates of the virus,” Yearby said.

Follow Sarah on Twitter @petit_smudge

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Ruqaiijah Yearby's name.

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.