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

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.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.