WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden’s administration announced Tuesday that it will begin shipping COVID-19 vaccines directly to select pharmacies on Feb. 11, as part of its plan to ramp up vaccinations as new and potentially more serious virus strains are appearing in the United States.

Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said that starting next week, some 6,500 pharmacies around the country will receive a total of 1 million doses of vaccine. The number of participating pharmacies, and the allocation of vaccines, are expected to accelerate as drugmakers increase production.

That is in addition to 10.5 million doses that the federal government plans to ship weekly to states and territories for the next three weeks, he added.

Initially, the government will ship limited quantities of vaccine to drug stores around the country, but that’s expected to accelerate as drugmakers increase production. Drug stores have become a mainstay for flu shots and shingles vaccines, and the industry is capable of vaccinating tens of millions of people monthly.

“As the first phase of this program launches, select retail pharmacies nationwide will receive limited vaccine supply to vaccinate priority groups at no cost,” the Biden administration said in a statement. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked with states to select initial pharmacy partners based on a number of factors including their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”

The program which includes 21 national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacies could expand to up 40,000. “Not all will be active in every state in the initial phase,” according to a fact sheet released by the administration.

According to the administration, participating federal pharmacy partners will include:

  • Walgreens (including Duana Reade)
  • CVS Pharmacy, Inc. (including Long’s)
  • Walmart, Inc. (including Sam’s Club)
  • Rite Aid Corp.
  • The Kroger Co. (including Kroger, Harris Teeter, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Ralphs, King Soopers, Smiths, City Market, Dillons, Mariano’s, Pick-n-Save, Copps, Metro Market)
  • Publix Super Markets, Inc. 
  • Costco Wholesale Corp.
  • Albertsons Companies, Inc. (including Osco, Jewel-Osco, Albertsons, Albertsons Market, Safeway, Tom Thumb, Star Market, Shaw’s, Haggen, Acme, Randalls, Carrs, Market Street, United, Vons, Pavilions, Amigos, Lucky’s, Pak n Save, Sav-On)
  • Hy-Vee, Inc.
  • Meijer Inc.
  • H-E-B, LP
  • Retail Business Services, LLC (including Food Lion, Giant Food, The Giant Company, Hannaford Bros Co, Stop & Shop)
  • Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. (including Winn-Dixie, Harveys, Fresco Y Mas)

The partnership with drug stores was originally announced by the Trump administration last November. At that time, no coronavirus vaccines had been approved.

The 1 million doses being shipped to pharmacies will be on top of the allocations to states. Zients said a priority will be to get the vaccine to minority communities that have suffered a disproportionately high toll of disease and deaths from the virus.

“This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities,” Zients said, adding that supply constraints will limit the program in its early days.

Zients also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse states for some COVID-related costs they had taken on since the pandemic began January 2020, such as for personal protective equipment and deployment of the national guard.

He said Congress does not need to approve funds for FEMA to do this and that the total payments to states will be between $3 billion and $5 billion.

Zients added that the federal government has acquired supplies of equipment healthcare providers need to get six doses from each vial of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine rather than five.

You can watch the full briefing below:

The briefing comes one day after White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt announced that the government awarded a $231-million contract to Ellume to scale up production of its rapid antigen test. The Australian manufacturer’s at-home test was granted an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in December.

Ellume’s test kit allows users to swab themselves at home and check their status in about 20 minutes. It also includes a smartphone app that provides instructions explaining how to take a nasal swab and place it into the small analyzer that processes the sample. The app connects to the analyzer via Bluetooth to display the test results on the user’s phone.

It’s one of only three tests that consumers can use themselves, and the only one available without a doctor’s prescription.

The Ellume contract comes as variants first reported in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil are appearing in the United States.

The U.S. has more than 26.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 443,000 deaths from the virus according to Johns Hopkins University.

Nearly 50 million vaccine doses have been distributed across the United States with more than 32.2 million doses administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.