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U.S. retail pharmacies struggling with vaccine administration as demand surges

Despite a strong supply, U.S. retail pharmarcies are, in some places, struggling to quickly administer COVID-19 vaccines, The Wall Street Journal reports. 

Some Americans are facing "waits of days or weeks for doses as local health officials hustle to improve access to meet surging demand," the Journal writes, noting chains like CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart have been increasingly unable to accomodate walk-ins. 

Health officials attribute the jolt in vaccine interest to recent booster eligibility for millions, newly-recommended use in children as young as five, and concerns about the new Omicron variant, per the Journal.

"Demand for vaccinations is particularly high at this time so we encourage people to schedule their appointments in advance," Walgreens said. Retail pharmacies, who have provided roughly two-thirds of the country's COVID vaccinations, continue to embrace their inoculation responsibility, but are struggling with staffing, the Journal notes, causing "some locations to limit hours or close drive-throughs."

CVS said it has open slots and enough doses for the next two weeks, but in-store waits or pre-scheduled appointments may be necessary. The chain told the Journal it had recently hired thousands of pharmacists, pharmacist technicians, and other workers to help with COVID testing and vaccine administration.

Confusion over which drugstores allow walk-ins — which some Walmart pharmacies, for example, stopped offering due to overwhelming demand — is also adding to the problem, local health officials told the Journal. The White House on Thursday said the federal pharmacy partnership is working to expand availability.

"That message to just go ahead and walk in might be appealing," said Dr. Matt Willis, public health officer for Marin County, Calif., "but it doesn't work very well."