Kroger Health, the health care arm of The Kroger Co., is moving from preparation to action this week to provide coronavirus vaccinations nationwide across its 2,200 pharmacies and 220 in-store clinics in 35 states.
The Cincinnati-based supermarket giant said Tuesday that, in the past several months, Kroger Health has worked closely with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense, state health departments, pharmaceutical companies and other businesses to get ready for COVID-19 vaccine authorization. With the Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of emergency use for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus immunizations, Kroger Health said it will take a phased approach in delivering the vaccines, starting with priority populations as defined by federal and state governments.
Plans call for Kroger Health to begin providing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination in Anchorage and Juneau, Alaska, this week to health care workers in partnership with the state. Kroger Health said it’s also engaged in vaccination efforts for prioritized populations in several other geographies.
“Kroger Health is a COVID-19 response leader that has provided our patients, associates and other businesses with diagnostic testing tools and supporting resources since the onset of this public health crisis,” Colleen Lindholz (left), president of Kroger Health, said in a statement. “Kroger Health’s experienced health care providers remain committed to helping our patients and associates live healthier lives. The size and scale of our health care operation provides us with the unique ability to efficiently facilitate COVID-19 testing and immunize a large portion of the U.S. population, once the authorized vaccines become more widely available.”
To support operations and the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, Kroger Health plans to hire nearly 1,000 health care personnel, including pharmacy technicians. The company said it also will train current associates for the effort.
Kroger already has been active on the testing front. Kroger Health has helped conduct more than 250,000 COVID-19 tests since April, including through drive-up sites and Little Clinic locations. In October, Kroger Health launched rapid antibody tests to help inform patients if they previously have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The company also has provided COVID-19 diagnostic test kits for employers and for consumers and continued to administer the seasonal flu vaccine to ease the burden on the nation’s health care system.
“As one of the most-accessible health care partners in the U.S., Kroger Health is prepared and ready to play an active role in helping distribute the vaccine in collaboration with public health officials and community partners,” stated Dr. Marc Watkins, Kroger Health’s chief medical officer. “We are strongly encouraging all customers and associates to receive the vaccine to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, and we’ll do all we can to ensure they have access as soon as it’s available,” he added.
Over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) prioritized health care personnel, long-term care facility residents and people ages 75 and older for Phase 1a of the U.S. COVID-19 vaccination allocation. That group includes health care professionals in hospitals, emergency medical services, pharmacies, outpatient clinics, home health care, and public health and long-term care facilities, as well as residents of skilled nursing and assisted living centers and other residential care facilities.
Next up for coronavirus vaccines in Phase 1b will be people with chronic health conditions at a significantly higher risk for COVID-19 as well as essential frontline workers, including grocery and food industry employees. That group includes first responders, food and agriculture, education (teachers), utility, police, fire fighters, corrections officers and public transit workers, among others. Coming next in Phase 1c will be adults with high-risk medical conditions, those ages 65 to 74 and other essential workers. Mass administration of COVID-19 vaccines, covering much of the U.S. population, is slated for Phases 2 and 3.