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The Year Ahead

If They Nail Vaccinations, Drugstores Will Be the Heroes of 2021

CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart have pharmacies almost everywhere, experience administering shots, and are standing by to help speed along the troubled rollout.
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Vaccines from Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc., and others will have the power to one day end the pandemic, or at least tame it—but only after 70% or more of the world’s population gets inoculated against Covid-19. So far, the rollout has been anything but smooth: By mid-January just 13 million Americans had received a dose, far short of the Trump administration’s projections. At that rate, it could take until 2022 before the country gets back to normal.

Big drugstores say they’re ready to come to the rescue. They won’t eliminate the need for stadiums and other mass inoculation sites, but chains such as CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. have the advantage of being everywhere. There are 60,000 pharmacies spread across the U.S., including drugstores within big-box stores such as Walmart and major grocery chains as well as independents and local chains. Many have experience providing vaccines: U.S. pharmacies gave out about a third of adult flu shots in 2018, up from just 18% in 2012. President Joe Biden’s ambitious $20 billion plan to reboot the troubled vaccine distribution rollout to deliver on his pledge of 100 million shots in 100 days will rely, in part, on drugstores. “We are going to fully activate the pharmacies across the country,” Biden said on Jan. 15.