The Kroger Co. is set to double its operational capacity to administer COVID-19 vaccines, expanding from 500,000 to 1 million doses per week.
Kroger Health, the company’s health care services arm, said Thursday that the coronavirus vaccinations will be delivered through its in-store pharmacies and Little Clinics as well as at off-site mass immunization events. Starting this month in Ohio and Kentucky, Kroger Health plans to hold 100 off-site events as part of its vaccine ramp-up.
The plan to reach administration of 1 million doses weekly will require the activation of all pharmacies and clinics within Kroger Health’s national network, along with ongoing and expanded partnerships with federal, state and local governments and health officials, according to the company.
“By the end of this week, Kroger Health will have administered 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and we’re only getting started,” Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health, said in a statement. “We’re here to collaborate with our existing federal and state partners, and we’re ready to work with other states to accelerate the vaccination of more Americans and reach our full capacity, leveraging our 2,250 pharmacy and 220 clinic locations.”
To expedite COVID immunizations, Kroger Health said it will focus the first hour of its pharmacies’ operations on administering the three Food and Drug Adminstration-authorized vaccines, including the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and the single-shot Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine. Patients will be able to schedule vaccination appointments online for other times of the day, but the one-hour focus in the morning will enable more coronavirus inoculations to be provided, Kroger Health noted.
Plans call for the new vaccination focus hour to kick off this week in Ohio, with more states to follow next week based on COVID-19 vaccine accessibility and supply.
The Kroger Health team’s COVID-19 efforts — which besides vaccines has included drive-up and pharmacy/clinic testing, diagnostic testing solutions (such as rapid antibody, rapid antigen, and employer and at-home test kits) and supportive care services — are “helping America confront and recover from this public health crisis,” according to Lindholz.
“We’re pleased with the continued increase of vaccine allocations and hopeful the additional inventory will speed up the rollout guidelines to create greater access for our frontline grocery workers as we continue to advocate on their behalf," she added.
Kroger is working to deliver COVID shots at all of its 2,250 pharmacies and already provides them at its more than 220 Little Clinics.
In an interview on Monday, Lindholz told Supermarket News that since providing its first COVID-19 vaccinations in Juneau, Alaska, on Dec. 22, Kroger has administered 850,000 vaccines overall and expects to hit the 1 million mark this week. So far, 1,700 of Kroger’s 2,250 pharmacies and all of its clinics have been providing COVID immunizations. This past weekend, the company also received its first allocation of the J&J vaccine and will begin providing it this week.
She said the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, which launched last month and distributes the vaccines directly to pharmacies, is further helping Kroger’s efforts to build up its supply and get shots into arms. Kroger is one of the program’s 21 national partners.
“We keep expanding. There was the federal pharmacy program. We started out in seven states, expanded to 11 and then this week we’ll add another one, the state of Michigan, and make it 12. Really, it’s across 26 states in total, between the local and state jurisdiction relationships that we have and now the federal pharmacy program,” Lindholz said. “So it has been rising, but it’s all about the need. We’ve been able to partner with local jurisdictions and governors, whether it be educators and teachers in the state of Ohio that we were able to help Gov. [Mike] DeWine with, or these mass [vaccination] clinics that we’re doing across the nation, which are really helping out, too.”
Kroger also is focusing on vaccinating employees. In February, the company announced a one-time payment of $100 to all associates who receive full doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. It also began offering a $100 store credit and 1,000 fuel points to hourly frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center workers across its 35-state market area under an additional $50 million investment.
“We are strongly encouraging all customers and our associates — who qualify for a one-time reward payment of $100 — to receive the first vaccine available to them at the earliest possible opportunity once they become eligible in their local health jurisdiction to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Dr. Marc Watkins, Kroger Health’s chief medical officer, said in a statement on Thursday. “All three vaccines are authorized for use by the FDA and supported by the CDC in their proven effectiveness in protecting against COVID-19.”