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Maine CDC hopes more retail pharmacies like Walmart and Sam's Club will soon join state's COVID-19 vaccine effort

Appointment slots for the vaccine at the 22 Walmart and 2 Sam's Club pharmacies in Maine seem to get filled as quickly as they are made available.

PORTLAND, Maine — Appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine in Maine are hard to find, even at the 22 Walmart and two Sam's Club pharmacy locations around the state.

Those retail pharmacies get doses of the coronavirus vaccine from the federal government in addition to the allotment the Maine CDC gets from the federal government to distribute to hospital clinics.

When Walmart and Sam's Club first made appointments available on February 12, the slots filled up quickly, and that scenario keeps repeating as the weeks go on.

"That's just evidence of continued demand," Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said.

Dr. Shah said the Walmart and Sam's Club pharmacies are located in areas of Maine that typically have challenges to access, and the CDC expected those similar areas would struggle to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Walmart was able to come in and play a needed role there to make sure that folks who live in those parts of the state have access to the vaccine," Dr. Shah said.

The Maine CDC is in the process of compiling data on how many vaccines are given each day and where, but a spokesperson said they are still integrating reporting from pharmacies before they can share that data with the public.

While that lack of data prevents any concrete conclusions on how much impact these big box pharmacies are having, Dr. Shah believes they are helping.

"I think it has helped with demand and certainly helped with supply," Dr. Shah said.

Other retail pharmacies, such as CVS and Walgreens, are helping in Maine, too. Currently, those companies are holding vaccine clinics at long-term care facilities, including assisted living facilities and skilled nursing facilities.

Dr. Shah said almost every facility in Maine has held its first vaccination clinic, with second and third clinics being scheduled.

"It's very, very close to all [having their first clinics]," Shah said.

CVS and Walgreens plan to shift their vaccine resources to their retail stores for those who are eligible. The two have started that process in other states, but they have not announced when that will happen in Maine.

"Through a federal partnership, COVID-19 vaccines will eventually be available at CVS Pharmacy locations across the country subject to product availability and prioritization of populations," a CVS press release notes.

"We're hoping to continue working with not just with Walmart, but other commercial pharmacy partners that are known and trusted across the state to make vaccine even more available in different parts of the state," Shah said.

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