Grocers step in to speed up COVID-19 vaccine rollout

State and federal officials are turning to regional pharmacies, as well as pharmacies located within supermarkets, to help accelerate the nation's COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

State and federal officials are turning to regional pharmacies, as well as pharmacies located within supermarkets, to help accelerate the nation's COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Kroger, for example, reportedly is exploring strategies that would allow it to immunize several hundred people at once—such as by hosting vaccine clinics at community centers or sports stadiums. Retailers were not expected to begin administering vaccines until Phase II of the rollout, but HHS Secretary Alex Azar said a federal agreement with 19 pharmacy chains and associations would launch this week instead. Companies including CVS Health and Walgreens are already vaccinating staff and residents of long-term care facilities, but others will start offering the vaccine to front-line workers and other priority populations at 40,000 sites earlier than initially planned. Charlie Hartig, CEO at Hartig Drug Stores, said the company has administered 100 doses to health care workers and caregivers since last week in three of its roughly 20 stores. While the company could be offering more, it wants to follow guidelines strictly, Hartig said. Stop & Shop reports that it is talking with Massachusetts and other states about how its pharmacies can help sooner, according to Katie Thornell, director of pharmacy operations at the company. Meanwhile, Tops Markets recently discussed with New York state officials potentially helping to vaccinate nursing-home residents and health care workers, said Matthew Hamed, the company's director of pharmacy. Rite Aid noted a growing number of states and other jurisdictions are reaching out to request help with vaccine administration. The company has recently administered vaccine doses to health care workers in New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York City, and Delaware. At Giant Eagle, the company's chief pandemic officer, Vic Vercammen, said the company is discussing with some states how to repurpose underused spaces such as county fairgrounds and courthouses to set up immunization clinics. Giant Eagle has also provided vaccinations in nursing homes and long-term care facilities in West Virginia and is working with Ohio officials to increase immunization efforts. The federal government is far behind its target of protecting 20 million Americans by the end of 2020, with only about 5.3 million doses administered out of more than 17 million that are currently available.