As grocery retailers ramp up COVID-19 vaccination programs, FMI-The Food Industry Association is doing its part to help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) resolve issues in vaccine distribution and administration.
FMI said yesterday it participated in an online public meeting hosted by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The grocery trade group voiced support for federal guidelines in vaccine allocation but said food industry employees — deemed as “essential workers” by the government — are falling short as one of the priority populations to be immunized.
“FMI strongly supports the ACIP’s recommendations to prioritize health care personnel, including pharmacists, in the initial phase of COVID-19 vaccine allocation, as well as food and agriculture industry essential workers in Phase 1b. However, to achieve consistent and equitable COVID-19 vaccination, states and jurisdictions should be strongly encouraged to adhere to federal recommendations,” Peter Matz, director of food and health policy at FMI, said in a statement.
"For vaccine providers to fully utilize the limited supply of vaccines they do receive, they must have visibility into the expected availability of future doses," FMI's Peter Matz said. (Photo courtesy of FMI-The Food Industry Association)
“As a result of many states reworking their vaccine prioritization frameworks in the face of federal guidance, food industry essential workers – from manufacturing/production employees working in close proximity and grocery workers who have a higher contact rate with the public, to certain transportation workers and food safety auditors who ensure food, beverages, and packaged goods are safe for consumer consumption – are struggling to access vaccinations,” he explained.
Meanwhile, supermarket pharmacies are grappling with shortfalls in coronavirus vaccine doses, according to Matz. He said most of these pharmacies “are not yet receiving vaccine supplies anywhere close to their capacity” even though many are using their parking lots and outdoor tents for COVID-19 vaccination clinics, which can administer nearly 1,000 shots per day.
“With that in mind, FMI urges the Biden administration to designate a ‘federal COVID vaccine coordinator’ in each state and jurisdiction to coordinate at all levels of government and help ensure the deployment of vaccines among priority populations,” Matz stated. “Also, in order for vaccine providers to fully utilize the limited supply of vaccines they do receive, they must have visibility into the expected availability of future doses. Therefore, to expedite vaccinations, we urge the federal government to share with states and providers the anticipated lot release dates for vaccine doses.”
FMI has created a COVID-19 vaccine communications toolkit that promotes grocery stores as health and well-being destinations, including for coronavirus shots and other immunizations as well as pharmacy services, nutritious food and dietary supplements.
Earlier this week, retail giant Walmart announced that it will use its scale — more than 5,000 Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies in the United States and Puerto Rico — to help more Americans get vaccinated for coronavirus. The company said it expects to be able to deliver 10 million to 13 million doses of coronavirus vaccine per month at full capacity, depending on government allocations and manufacturer supply.
Lisa Smith, senior director of health and wellness at Walmart, said in a blog post yesterday that the company is set to start administering COVID-19 vaccines in Maryland, Texas, Delaware, Indiana and the District of Columbia to eligible populations as determined by each state and district.
“We’re already hearing great feedback from our patients in locations where we’re administering vaccines according to state eligibility, like our Sam’s Club in Greenville, S.C.,” Smith said. “It’s exciting to see the gratitude and the optimism these patients have as they get vaccinated. We can’t wait until more people across the country have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once their state has the allocation and determines eligibility to broader groups of people.”
Also on Wednesday, grocery distributor and retailer SpartanNash said it has partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with state health authorities in its market areas, to administer COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccinations will be available at no cost by online appointment at all of the company’s 88 pharmacies in Family Fare, D&W Fresh Market, VG’s Grocery, Family Fresh Market, Forest Hills Foods, Econofoods and Martin’s Super Markets stores in Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Family Fare is one of the SpartanNash grocery chains gearing up to administer coronavirus immunizations. (Photo courtesy of SpartanNash)
Customers must wear a medical-grade face mask, provided by the pharmacy, at their appointment and complete a health screening before receiving the vaccination, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based SpartanNash said. After being inoculated, patients will be visually monitored for a brief period by the pharmacist who administered the vaccine.
“With multiple COVID-19 vaccinations approved and ready for broad distribution in the coming months, SpartanNash and our family of retail pharmacies are here for our store guests, and we are committed to providing them with a safe, clean environment to receive this important vaccine,” Lori Raya, executive vice president and chief merchandising and marketing officer at SpartanNash, said in a statement. “Our pharmacists have and will continue to play an important role in the fight against the coronavirus, providing critical care for the communities we serve.”
Ahold Delhaize USA’s Stop & Shop chain said selected pharmacy locations in Massachusetts began administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to patients on Jan. 26. Based on Massachusetts Department of Health guidelines, Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop can administer the vaccination to Phase 1 recipients — including frontline health care workers, long-term care staff and residents, first responders, congregate care setting workers, and home-based health care workers — through Jan. 31.
Starting on Feb. 1, participating Stop & Shop pharmacies in Massachusetts will be able to provide COVID vaccines to people ages 75 and older. Customers can schedule an appointment with Stop & Shop and see its COVID-19 updates online at stopandshop.com/covid-vaccine.
“Stop & Shop is proud to continue to do its part in the fight against COVID-19,” commented Katie Thornell, director of pharmacy operations for Stop & Shop. “Being an early provider of the vaccine demonstrates our commitment to being a trusted health resource within our local communities. We are excited to begin helping members of the community protect themselves against COVID-19, while continuing to provide a safe shopping experience for your family’s everyday grocery and pharmacy needs.”
In the Southeast, Publix Super Markets has expanded COVID-19 vaccination appointments in Florida and rolled out a second round of vaccines in Georgia.
Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix said Monday that Georgia has selected 139 of its pharmacies in the state to receive doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Though the total number of Georgia pharmacy locations offering the vaccination is expanding, not all of the previously announced 108 pharmacies will receive additional vaccines at this time, the company noted. Vaccinations are provided by appointment only, while supplies last, via the online reservation system at publix.com/covidvaccine. Appointment times became available for Jan. 28 to 30.
“We’re grateful to continue working with the state of Georgia to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to our Georgia communities,” stated Publix CEO Todd Jones. “As more doses become available, it’s our hope we can help more people in our communities receive this important vaccination.”
In Florida, Publix added pharmacies in Indian River and St. Lucie to administer Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, bringing the grocer’s total number of coronavirus vaccination sites in the state to 261 in 20 counties. Online appointment slots at publix.com/covidvaccine cover Jan. 28 to Feb. 3.
“With each new shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine, we are able to serve more people and more communities in our home state,” Jones commented.
According to state guidelines, Publix is providing vaccines only to individuals ages 65 and older in Florida and to seniors and their caregivers, first responders, health care workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities in Georgia. Last week, Publix also expanded distribution of coronavirus shots to 42 pharmacies in South Carolina.
Mid-Atlantic grocer Weis Markets began administering COVID-19 vaccinations in 55 of its Pennsylvania on Jan. 21. Based on state health guidelines, Weis pharmacies are providing the vaccines to seniors and people ages 16 to 64 with chronic health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, including cancer, chronic kidney disease, smoking, COPD, heart conditions, Down Syndrome, obesity and diabetes.
Appointments are available online via weismarkets.com/pharmacy-services one day prior to the immunization, Sunbury, Pa.-based Weis said, adding that the pharmacy will schedule COVID vaccine recipients for their second immunization four weeks later.
“Our pharmacies have received a limited quantity of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine,” according to Rick Seipp, vice president of pharmacy at Weis Markets. “Per Pennsylvania Health Department guidelines, we are prioritizing individuals 65 years or older and those with high-risk conditions for immunization appointments. Over time, we hope to expand to other priority categories as vaccine becomes more available and in coordination with the commonwealth’s guidelines. We’re ready to help.”