Pharmacies at supermarkets and other grocery retailers nationwide stand ready to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines once they’re received, according to FMI-The Food Industry Association.
FMI made its announcement Friday evening after an independent Food and Drug Administration panel granted emergency use authorization to the first coronavirus vaccine candidate, from Pfizer and partner BioNTech. Use of the vaccination, which is 95% effective and requires an initial dose followed by a booster three weeks later, has been cleared for people ages 16 and older.
Shipment of the first batch of 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is under way, and hospitals in all 50 states have begun to receive it. The first COVID-19 immunization outside trial was administered today to an intensive care nurse in New York. Frontline health care workers also are slated to receive the vaccine on Monday in Michigan, Ohio and Washington, D.C.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has prioritized initial distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to health care professionals — including in hospitals, pharmacies, clinics, long-term care facilities and other sites — and to residents of nursing and assisted living centers. They will be followed by essential workers, including grocery and food industry employees, and then seniors and adults with chronic health conditions. Mass distribution of the vaccine to Americans is expected in the second quarter of this year.
“Our members have sustained, bolstered and at times shifted operations to ensure Americans have access to safe, nutritious, and affordable foods and goods in high demand — all while supermarket pharmacies have continued to serve as a bridge between our communities and other providers,” FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a statement. “Notably, grocery pharmacies offer patients immediate care that is close and convenient to home. Pharmacists also play an integral role in increasing vaccination rates across the country, with more than 25% of annual influenza vaccinations administered within pharmacies and more than 50% of shingles vaccines administered by pharmacists. And now, these health care professionals stand ready to be part of the COVID-19 vaccination effort.”
FMI members operate approximately 12,000 supermarket pharmacies across the country. Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Strategy for COVID-19 Vaccination program will provide COVID-19 vaccine coverage to about 60% of pharmacies in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Grocery retailers participating in the program include Ahold Delhaize USA, Albertsons Cos., Costco Wholesale, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, The Kroger Co., Meijer, Publix Super Markets, Southeastern Grocers and Walmart, among others.
“While the nation waits for the COVID-19 vaccine, supermarkets are working diligently to provide food, cleaning products and the full range of pharmacy services — including flu and other vaccinations — to support Americans’ health and well-being,” Sarasin added. “Serving as knowledgeable and trusted health and well-being partners within their communities, it’s clear that supermarket pharmacists will be essential to a successful COVID-19 vaccination plan.”
Supercenter retailer Meijer announced Monday that it’s focusing on a variety of measures to provide COVID-19 vaccines to a large number of patients. Efforts include the development of specific technical solutions to help manage the volume of patients and the need for follow up to ensure patients get a second dose in a timely manner when required, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company said.
“We are aggressively preparing for the next phase of this challenge, which will be to ensure our communities have the ability to quickly and safely obtain a COVID-19 vaccine once they become available,” Meijer President and CEO Rick Keyes said in a statement.
Meijer, which operates 256 stores in six Midwestern states, added that it’s also evaluating physical spaces and locations for large-scale clinics, similar to the seasonal flu shot clinics that it conducted this fall at stadiums and outdoor locations. The retailer said it can host COVID-19 clinics inside its stores, since many are more than 200,000 square feet.
“Our pharmacists, pharmacy interns and pharmacy technicians throughout the Midwest continue to prepare for the unprecedented challenge of vaccinating a very large number of people in the near future,” Meijer Vice President of Pharmacy Jason Beauch said.
Stop & Shop, part of Ahold Delhaize USA, reported that the COVID-19 vaccination, once available, will be administered to customers through its more than 250 pharmacies across the Northeast at no charge. In accordance with CDC guidelines, customers receiving immunizations are required to wear a face covering, and pharmacists are equipped with masks, gloves and face shields. The inoculation area will also have strict disinfecting and sanitization measures in place between each patient, the Quincy, Mass.-based chain said.
“We’re proud to do our part in the fight against COVID-19 by joining this critical effort led by HHS, and by making the vaccines accessible for our customers as soon as safe and effective options become available,” stated Katie Thornell, director of pharmacy at Stop & Shop. “This move to become an early provider is part of our commitment to be a trusted health resource within our communities.”
Asheville, N.C.-based Ingles Markets, also partnering with HHS in the program, noted that it has already administered a record number of flu vaccinations this season. The CDC has recommended that Americans get a flu shot to help health professionals better diagnose COVID-19 and lighten the load on the nation’s health care system.
“We are honored to have been selected to partake in the plan to maximize access to COVID-19 vaccines and to serve our patients and communities,” commented Ron Freeman, chief financial officer at Ingles, which operates 109 pharmacies. “Our goal is to provide convenient and safe administration of vaccines.”
Brookshire Grocery Co. said that, as allocated by state officials, its Brookshire’s and Super 1 Foods pharmacies will administer coronavirus vaccinations to the public free. When the vaccine becomes available, pharmacy staff will participate in the necessary training to administer the immunization and educate patients, the Tyler, Texas-based retailer said, adding that its pharmacists are trained to be vaccine administrators. The grocer has over 180 stores in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.
“We are proud to participate in the plan to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines to best serve our communities,” Chairman and CEO Brad Brookshire stated. “Our pharmacy team is actively enrolling with each state in order to be ready to safely administer vaccines when available. We care about our neighbors and are committed to doing what we can to lessen the impact of COVID-19.”
Walmart, the nation’s largest grocery retailer, said it has been preparing its more than 5,000 Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies to receive the vaccine doses, including ensuring that all of its pharmacies have freezers and dry ice for storing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination, which requires cold storage of -94 degrees F. Walmart Chief Medical Officer Tom Van Gilder said the Bentonville, Ark.-based company also has been entering into agreements with states to be able to support vaccines where needed, establishing processes to inform people of when to receive the first and second doses, and educating associates about the vaccine. About 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart location, he noted.
“We have been on quite a journey the last several months, from entering into agreements with the federal government to distribute the vaccine, to preparing our operations and clinical services, all to get ready to be one of the places our customers and associates can receive the vaccine,” Gilder said in a blog post last week. “I know we are all ready to get back to normal and enjoy life beyond the epidemic, and these vaccines will help us do that.”
A COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna is expected to receive emergency use authorization from the FDA this month. Other coronavirus vaccinations in Phase 3 trials include candidates from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novovax, among others.
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