RICHMOND — CVS Pharmacy opened its online registration for COVID-19 vaccines early Tuesday, hours after announcing that it would not begin taking appointments for two days.
The national pharmacy chain said it opened the online portal to accommodate Virginia's concerns about giving first access to people who already had registered for vaccination with their local health districts.
"The state of Virginia asked us to open our scheduling system early for those who pre-registered for a vaccination through their local department of health," spokeswoman Amy Thibault said. "We have accommodated this request and Virginians who pre-registered can now look for available appointments in our system."
The move prompted further confusion for Virginians who said all appointments were gone by the time they realized that CVS had opened its website for people to pre-register for vaccinations, which are scheduled to begin on Friday.
"Everyone is frustrated and wants to understand," said Lynn Spitzer, a Richmond resident who said she is registered with the health department.
The Virginia Department of Health required that only people are eligible to receive the vaccine now and already registered with their local health departments are allowed to registered with CVS under the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program that President Joe Biden launched last week.
Health department officials say they are working with CVS on a technological solution to ensure that only those already registered with the state are given appointments at the 36 retail pharmacies participating in the initial rollout in Virginia.
Thibault, at CVS, said, "During the online registration, we ask patients to confirm that the information they provide is accurate."
COVID-19 vaccinations at three dozen CVS retail pharmacies in the state will begin on Friday, a day later than originally planned, as the national pharmacy chain and the Virginia Department of Health agreed on a plan to coordinate the rollout of the national program that President Joe Biden announced last week.
CVS announced late Monday that it would open an online portal to schedule appointments at still-undisclosed retail pharmacies on Thursday, two days later than originally planned. The public will not know where the 36 locations are until the company activates the system for Virginia on Thursday.
Under the plan, CVS will vaccinate only people who are age 65 or older and who already have registered with their local health department.
The arrangement will boost Virginia’s vaccine supply by 26,000 doses a week and addresses VDH concerns about the creation of new waiting lists under the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program that would not ensure the vaccination of Virginians already signed up for appointments through their local health districts.
“I think they took a step back to look for ways to ensure that people already on the list get vaccinated,” Christina Barrille, executive director of the Virginia Pharmacists Association, said of the state Department of Health.
Dr. Danny Avula, the state vaccine coordinator appointed by Gov. Ralph Northam, said Virginia has been working with CVS to find a “technological solution that allows folks who have been pre-registered with local health districts to get first access.”
“They were always willing to explore every possibility,” Avula said in an interview late Monday.
CVS said it delayed the beginning of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program in Virginia and 10 other states “in order to ensure in-store availability” of the vaccine. The company said it would not begin accepting appointments until participating stores receive their vaccine supplies from the federal government.
People can learn the location of participating CVS pharmacies by going to the online scheduling portal at cvs.com/immunizations/covid-19-vaccine#statetool. People without access to the CVS website can call (800) 746-7287 for customer service, beginning on Thursday.
CVS said it will not publish a list of participating stores because the participants “will change regularly based on vaccine supply.”