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Meijer contactless pharmacy-COVID.jpg Meijer
Meijer pharmacies are slated to begin administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a limited number of stores in Michigan to seniors starting Jan. 18.

Grocery retailers ramp up COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Meijer, Wegmans, Publix, H-E-B and others work to get shots in arms as doses come in

Supercenter retailer Meijer and regional grocer Wegmans Food Markets are mobilizing COVID-19 vaccination programs as they receive state allocations of the vaccine.

Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer said yesterday that Michigan has chosen the company as its an initial pharmacy partner to receive and administer coronavirus immunizations via the Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership Program. Plans call for Meijer pharmacies to provide the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a limited number of stores in Wayne County to people ages 65 and older starting Jan. 18. 

Specific store locations haven’t yet been determined, and as more doses become available, Meijer will offer the vaccinations at more stores across Michigan, the company said. Meijer operates 120 pharmacies in Michigan and more than 250 pharmacies across its Midwestern footprint, which also includes Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin.

“Our stores and pharmacies have played a very important role in supporting their communities during this difficult time,” Meijer President and CEO Rick Keyes said in a statement. “We are proud to be chosen by the state of Michigan as a partner to help administer these critical vaccines, and we look forward to our expanded role in helping communities throughout the Midwest defeat this pandemic.”

Meijer has launched a text-based process for people who want to register to receive the COVID vaccine. To register, those seeking a vaccination text “COVID” to the number 75049 to receive a link to register. They also go online to to register. The link includes three questions that enable Meijer pharmacies to determine which vaccine phase the patient is in. As doses are received, customers will be contacted with a date for their vaccine. They will also be able to decline the date offered while staying in the registration group for a future date, or opt out of the process if they change their mind or have already received the vaccine.

“The state of Michigan is proud to partner with Meijer to help distribute the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to Michiganders across the state,” stated Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “One of the most important things all Michiganders can do right now is to make a plan to get the vaccine when it becomes available to you. Remember, it will take some time to distribute the vaccine to all Michiganders, so please be patient.”

Meanwhile, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans announced this week that nine of its pharmacy locations in New York are receiving a limited supply of the COVID-19 vaccine. Based on state guidelines, the vaccinations will be distributed to people ages 75 and older and to Wegmans pharmacy staff, the company said.

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Based on New York state guidelines, Wegmans plans to initially provide vaccinations to people ages 75 and older and to its pharmacy staff.

Wegmans pharmacies that will be administering the coronavirus inoculations, from Moderna, include stores in Rochester (Eastway, Pittsford, Chili-Paul, Mt. Read and East Avenue), Buffalo (Alberta Drive and Sheridan Drive) and Syracuse (Fairmount and Dewitt).

The COVID vaccinations are given by appointment only. Those eligible to receive the vaccine can schedule one at by calling (800) 207-6099. Wegmans noted that recipients must present photo ID for proof of age and it won’t immunize other groups eligible in Phase 1 of the state’s vaccination distribution at this time.

“We value this opportunity to help increase the vaccination rates in New York state and help control the COVID-19 pandemic as we all work toward the ultimate goal of achieving herd immunity throughout our communities,” commented John Carlo, senior vice president of pharmacy at Wegmans. “We understand there are many out there who are interested in receiving the vaccine as soon as possible, and we are working hard every day to be ready when vaccinations become available more broadly. Until then, we ask for everyone’s patience and understanding as we begin vaccinating and focus first on those in our community who are age 75 and older.”

Overall, Wegmans operates 104 supermarkets in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and North Carolina. 

Also in the Mid-Atlantic region, Weis Markets began administering COVID-19 vaccines to seniors at four of its pharmacy stores in Binghamton and Elmira, N.Y., on Jan. 14. The Sunbury, Pa.-based grocer said customers can schedule an appointment for the vaccination online at Weis operates 197 stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York West Virginia and Virginia.

“We’ve received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and will begin immunizing on Thursday. We are prioritizing individuals 65 years or older in alignment with the State of New York. Over time, we hope to expand to other priority categories as vaccine becomes more available and in coordination with the State,” stated Rick Seipp, vice president of pharmacy for Weis Markets. “It’s also important to note this is a two-step process. To ensure the effectiveness of the vaccine, customers must receive a second immunization four weeks after their first shot. We’re ready to help.”

Meanwhile, Publix Super Markets is bringing its COVID-19 vaccination effort to another state. The Lakeland, Fla.-based grocer announced late Thursday that it plans to begin administering the vaccine to seniors and their caregivers at 108 pharmacies in Georgia starting Jan. 16 via a collaboration with the state and Gov. Brian Kemp. Immunizations for the virus are being offered by appointment only, and those eligible can schedule an appointment via Publix's online reservation system at beginning on Friday.

Publix already offers COVID-19 vaccines through 105 pharmacies in 12 Florida counties, and the retailer said it continues to communicate with the states in its operating area to provide COVID-19 vaccinations as part of their distribution efforts. 

Vaccine supply and demand

With Americans now scouring the internet and dialing up pharmacies in search of COVID-19 vaccines, retailers are taking care to alert customers about availability as they receive more doses — or not. 

For example, Texas grocer H-E-B reported yesterday that it’s not slated to receive another vaccination shipment this week. The San Antonio-based company announced last week that it received a supply of the Moderna vaccine and, via its partnership with Texas and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), is sticking to a phased rollout of the immunizations, with the first group of recipients to include health care workers, community health providers and residents of long-term care facilities. 

“H-E-B has requested another allocation of vaccine from the state of Texas. Our initial allocation has either already been distributed or is scheduled to be administered,” H-E-B stated on its website on Wednesday. “We are awaiting another allocation of vaccine from the state of Texas so we can continue to vaccinate health care providers as well as begin offering vaccine to those in Phase 1B. Once we have supply, we will activate a scheduler tool on so people can schedule an appointment.”

On its COVID vaccine web page, H-E-B lists eligible customers for the different phases of the vaccination rollout: health care workers and long-term care residents in Phase 1A; people ages 75 and older and adults with chronic health conditions for Phase 1B; essential frontline workers — as defined by the state of Texas — for Phase 1C; and the general public for Phase 2. H-E-B, which overall operates more than 350 stores in Texas, noted that the COVID shots are being offered by appointment only and aren’t yet available for people designated for Phases 1C and 2.

Retail pharmacies, including in-store and drugstore locations, are seen as key destinations for COVID-19 vaccinations. To that end, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) on Thursday said it has released a new ad (see video above) saying that “it’s time to end this pandemic once and for all” and “as vaccines become available, pharmacies are prepared to help reopen America.” 

With enough available supply, NACDS conservatively estimates that pharmacies can meet demand for 100 million COVID vaccinations in one month, according to the video ad, which focuses on the Washington, D.C., market. NACDS also notes that 90% of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, and pharmacies can work with public health groups to get vaccines out to vulnerable Americans via mobile clinicss. 

“This ad serves as a tribute to the trust, accessibility, dedication and heroics of pharmacists and entire pharmacy teams. It also serves as a pledge that pharmacies will continue to be there for all individuals, families, communities and the nation as we look with hope and confidence to these safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines,” NACDS President and CEO Steve Anderson said in a statement. “As the ad states, our message to government decision makers is this: We’re trusted, we’re local, and we’re ready to go.” 

Helping workers get vaccinated

Grocery retail stakeholders also are assisting workers in accessing coronavirus immunizations. 

Dollar General, for instance, announced yesterday that it’s “working to remove barriers” such as travel time, mileage and child care needs so employees can go get vaccinated. The Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based retailer said it will provide frontline hourly workers with a one-time payment equivalent of four hours of regular pay after receiving a completed COVID-19 vaccination and salaried team members with additional store-labor hours to accommodate their time away from the store.  

“We do not have an on-site pharmacy and currently do not have systems in place for employees to receive a vaccine at their work site,” Dollar General stated. “We do not want our employees to have to choose between receiving a vaccine or coming to work.”

Dollar General added that it’s also working with its distribution and transportation teams to make similar accommodations for those employees.

“Understanding the vaccination of health care personnel and long-term care facility residents is under way and the CDC currently recommends the next phase of vaccinations be offered to frontline essential workers,” the company said, “we want to be on the forefront of facilitating our employees’ ability to receive the COVID-19 vaccine if they so choose — and we encourage all of our team to receive the vaccine when it’s available to them.”

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Instacart personal shoppers are being offered a stipend for time away from deliveries so they can get vaccinated against COVID.

On Thursday, online grocery giant Instacart unveiled the COVID-19 Vaccine Support Stipend, a new program that offers financial assistance to its personal shoppers — who pick, pack and deliver orders from stores — as they take time away to get immunized against coronavirus. 

Starting Feb. 1, Instacart will provide a $25 stipend to eligible shift leads, in-store shoppers and full-service shoppers across North America as states and provinces proceed with phased rollouts of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Since the start of the pandemic, the health and safety of the entire Instacart community has been our top priority. With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise across the country, we’re taking proactive steps to advocate that government agencies recognize Instacart shoppers as critical essential workers who deserve early access to vaccines,” stated Apoorva Mehta, founder and CEO of Instacart. “Our goal with the introduction of our new Vaccine Support Stipend is to ensure that, when the time comes, Instacart shoppers don’t have to choose between earning income as an essential service provider or getting vaccinated.” 

Pharmacies among preferred COVID vaccine venues

About 63% of Americans plan to “definitely” or “probably” get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a new survey by the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project, a group of over 100 organizations representing patients, caregivers and families, diverse communities, health care workers, older Americans, veterans, frontline workers, and scientists aimed at promoting vaccine education. 

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Pharmacies like H-E-B are one of Americans' preferred destinations for COVID vaccinations.

Nearly a quarter (24%) of the 1,000 U.S. adult respondents said they would “probably not” or “definitely not” get a coronavirus vaccination, according to the study, commissioned by the Alliance for Aging Research.

Fifty-one percent of those polled cited their health care provider or pharmacist as one of the sources most likely to influence their decision to immunized against COVID-19. About 64% of Americans said they would prefer to receive the vaccine in their health provider’s office, while 29% indicated they prefer to do so at a pharmacy. Another 20% said they prefer getting a COVID shot at a drive-thru vaccine clinic, and 13% named a supermarket pharmacy as the venue where they’d like to get the vaccination. 

“While we’re encouraged to see the majority of respondents planning to get vaccinated, we need to continue to educate about the safety of receiving COVID-19 vaccines from various health care professionals, including pharmacists in drug stores, supermarkets and vaccine clinics,” according to Susan Peschin, president and CEO of the Alliance for Aging Research. “It is critical to our pursuit of health equity that all Americans have confidence in and access to COVID-19 vaccines.”

*Editor's Note: Article updated with information from Publix and Weis Markets.

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