Florida coronavirus vaccines to start at Walmart, Winn-Dixie, expand at Publix

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that 119 Walmart and Sam’s Clubs locations will start offering doses this week. And Publix will nearly double the number of stores that have doses.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addressed the media at the River Garden Hebrew House for the Aged in Jacksonville, Fla., on the status of COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state's nursing homes and assisted living facilities Monday, Jan. 25, 2021.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addressed the media at the River Garden Hebrew House for the Aged in Jacksonville, Fla., on the status of COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state's nursing homes and assisted living facilities Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. [ AP ]
Published Feb. 9, 2021|Updated Feb. 9, 2021

Florida retailers are getting 65,300 additional doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine this week as part of a new federal program to send vials directly to major pharmacies.

Nearly 500 Walmart, Winn-Dixie and Publix pharmacies across 52 counties are participating in the federal program and will be able to offer vaccines to people 65 and older by later this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday. The program marks a significant expansion in retail locations offering the vaccines to Florida’s residents, providing more access to people in different parts of the state. That includes Hillsborough County, which until now had been the only Tampa Bay county that didn’t have Publix locations offering vaccines from the state.

The Biden administration announced the launch of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination last week. More than 20 different retail pharmacies are participating in the initial rollout of the program nationwide.

In Florida, Publix, Walmart and Southeastern Grocers — the parent company of Winn-Dixie, Fresco y Más and Harveys grocery stores — are the participating retailers for now.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced 119 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations in 34 counties across the state will get a total of about 25,000 doses beginning this week. The chains will begin administering doses Friday.

“They have a great plan. They’re spreading it pretty far and wide,” DeSantis said, saying the doses will be going to more than 30 percent of Walmart and Sam’s Clubs stores in the state.

Walmart, the country’s largest grocer, says it chose its vaccine sites after consulting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state. The Arkansas-based company said it examined population density, demographics, infection rates and local health care resources when determining which stores would offer the vaccine.

“We’re committed to helping people live better — and healthier lives — in Florida, and we take that role very seriously,” Dr. Cheryl Pegus, Walmart’s executive vice president of health and wellness, said in a statement.

Southeastern Grocers says it chose its most high-trafficked pharmacies as its initial sites, saying it’s getting 8,100 doses that it will start administering Thursday.

Meanwhile, Publix, which has already been working with the state to offer vaccines at 325 stores across 23 counties, will be able to expand significantly further because of the federal program. It shared a list of 593 stores across 41 counties that are now going to offer vaccines.

Some Publix sites that had been getting doses from the state will now receive allocations instead from the federal government, the governor’s office said in a press release. The governor’s office noted that the federal government determines allocations to each store participating in the federal program.

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Nearly 50 retail locations in Hillsborough County will get doses through the federal program, including 44 Publix locations, two Walmarts, two Winn-Dixie stores and a Fresco y Más.

Pinellas County will now have 48 retail locations offering vaccines, although some Publix locations had previously been doing so before the federal allocation.

The program marks an expansion of retail pharmacy vaccine access into more Hispanic and Black areas of the state, a Tampa Bay Times analysis found.

The Publix stores already offering the vaccine before this expansion are in ZIP codes that are home to some 5.9 million Floridians. Those areas are much whiter than the state overall. About 71 percent of residents there are non-Hispanic white people, compared to 54 percent of all Floridians or 55 percent of those in ZIP codes with a licensed Publix pharmacy.

Many of the new pharmacies working with the federal government serve the same neighborhoods. But they are also in areas with more Hispanic and Black people. The program announced Tuesday expands into ZIP codes that are home to 6.8 million more people.

In areas where shots weren’t available at retail pharmacies before this week, about 54 percent of residents are non-Hispanic white people, nearly identical to the state overall. About 23 percent are Hispanic and another 17 percent are Black, also close to state rates. Those rates are much higher than in ZIP codes with Publix stores previously giving out vaccines (15 percent Hispanic and 10 percent Black).

DeSantis said the state had asked the participating retailers to consider locations that did not already have a Publix retail pharmacy offering vaccines so the state could expand access to more communities.

Still, it is not certain the people in those communities will be the ones to get the vaccine at a nearby store. None of the locations require Floridians registering for appointments to be residents of the county in which they are getting the vaccine.

The demand for the vaccine has driven many 65-and-over people to travel several counties over from where they live. And online sign-up systems favor those with computer know-how and access to transportation.

There are still more than 8.2 million Floridians living in ZIP codes without any retail pharmacy that offers the vaccine, and that population skews Hispanic. In those areas, just 42 percent of people are non-Hispanic white, 18 percent are non-Hispanic Black and 35 percent are Hispanic.

The number of doses being provided to the retailers is in addition to the state’s allotment of vaccine doses, DeSantis noted Tuesday. He said the state is getting about 325,000 vaccine doses this week, not including the doses coming through the federal retail pharmacy program.

All of the pharmacy retailers will only book vaccine appointments online. Publix said it will open its next block of available appointments Wednesday at 7 a.m. More will become available again on Friday and Monday at 7 a.m.

Related: Here are the stores offering COVID-19 vaccines in Tampa Bay

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