NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Local pharmacies report demand for COVID vaccine is so strong, they’re left with empty vials and long waiting lists.

Starting next week, they’ll get some relief.

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A new federal program will ship a million doses directly to pharmacies across the country, with more coming in the months ahead.

As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reports, the New Rochelle Prescription Center has hundreds of customers increasingly desperate to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Walk-ins put their names on a yellow pad. Others send emails, or leave voice messages.

COVID VACCINE

Pharmacist Popat Patel explains what the customers tell him.

“I’m 95. I’m 78. I have asthma. I have other conditions, how soon can I get it, the vaccine?” he said.

He has 30 doses left in the refrigerator to be given out Saturday, part of a small supply delivered by New York state.

But soon, his family pharmacies in New Rochelle and White Plains will get an allotment directly from the federal government under the CDC’s federal retail pharmacy program.

“Starting on February 11, the federal government will deliver vaccines directly to select pharmacies across the country,” said Jeff Zients of the White House COVID Task Force.

Large chains, such as CVS, will be the focus at first, with independent pharmacies soon to follow.

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CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

“It’s very key, because this releases so many doses straight to the public,” said pharmacy owner Mitesh Patel.

Mitesh Patel says the current state supply cannot meet demand. His pharmacy has vaccinated several hundred, and has 1,000 more on a waiting list.

The CDC direct-to-pharmacy program acknowledges many Americans want the shot from someone they know.

“Makes you feel much more comfortable when you know the person that you can trust,” said White Plains resident Nina Mendoza.

“We’re the closest provider to a lot of these folks. Rather than waiting in lines at mega sites, they’re able to get their shot right away and be under the care of our pharmacy,” Mitesh Patel said.

The plan is to eventually provide vaccines directly to all 40,000 pharmacies in the country.

That will take weeks, but it can’t happen fast enough given the demand.

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Tony Aiello