LOS ANGELES - The owners of the Ralphs supermarket chain announced Wednesday that their stores will provide access to the FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available in California.
Ralphs has 77 pharmacies in the Southern California area. The timing of when the vaccine would be available at those pharmacies was not immediately clear.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles County health officials said the initial allocation of roughly 84,000 COVID 19 vaccine doses would be available as early as next week, with initial priority given to health care workers.
"Because there's not sufficient supply, vaccine eligibility will be determined by phases of prioritization that have been developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ... as well as guidance that's developed by the California Department of Public Health," county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors. "Local planning is essential to assist in the implementation based on our current status and trends in transmission across this entire county."
In what is known as "Phase 1a" of the CDC-determined distribution plan, the county will distribute the initial wave of doses to acute-care hospitals, Ferrer said.
She said the county hopes to receive a second allocation of vaccines by Dec. 21, with priority expanding to include residents and staff at skilled nursing centers and long-term care facilities. That distribution will be administered through federal government contracts with CVS and Walgreens, Ferrer said.
Ferrer said the vaccine distribution will then spread to other priority locations, including dialysis centers, infusion centers, substance- abuse and mental-health facilities and primary care clinics, as well as public health clinical and field workers, home health care and in-home supportive services workers and health care workers at pharmacies. Following will be clinical labs and imaging centers and specialty clinics.
"The distribution mechanics for 1a have already been secured, so really 1a will move efficiently with, again, the receipt of appropriate doses. The federal plan is perhaps for a third allocation at the end of December, then weekly allocations ... throughout the upcoming new year," she said.
Although the pending arrival of vaccines offered some hope that the pandemic could be moving closer to an end, officials said widespread vaccination is still months away.
Ralphs officials said their effort would be conducted with the California Department of Public Health and the federal government.
"At Ralphs, we are committed to helping people live healthier lives. We have been diligent to do our part in the community to stop the spread of the virus by providing free drive-through COVID-19 testing," said Dr. Linh Lee, director of Pharmacy/Health & Wellness at Ralphs. "Affordable antibody testing is now available at all Ralphs pharmacies, and our team of health care professionals are actively preparing for the authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine."
Ralphs is owned by the Kroger Company.