With the promise of more COVID-19 vaccine supply at the federal, state and local levels, The Kroger Co. has launched a new vaccination scheduling tool to handle an expected surge in volume of customers seeking shots.
Kroger Health, the company’s pharmacy and health services arm, said Wednesday that the COVID-19 vaccine scheduler can manage more than 250,000 requests daily. The tool will indicate amount of vaccine doses confirmed within Kroger’s system and enable users to check vaccination eligibility and set appointments, based on vaccine availability.
Customers, too, can book appointments for their first and second doses at the same time. Both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines require two shots, 28 days and 21 days apart, respectively.
In tandem with the scheduling tool launch, Kroger Health’s COVID-19 vaccine support call center has partnered with IBM Watson to create an artificial intelligence-powered phone experience for patients. Watson will share answers to frequently asked questions and cut the wait time for patients, who can be transferred to a care representative as needed to make appointments, Kroger said. Customers can call (866) 211-5320 to reach the dedicated support line and find out more about location and vaccine availability. Kroger added that its technology and digital team has bolstered security as well to deter bot activity within the platform and provide maximum appointment availability.
“Kroger Health’s priority is the safety of our customers, associates and communities,” Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health, said in a statement. “Thanks to our incredible team of health professionals and technology experts, we’ve been able to streamline the vaccine rollout process across our family of pharmacies during these ever-changing times. As more vaccines become available nationwide, our pharmacies and clinics will be ready and able to administer thousands of doses to our communities every day. Our new online scheduling tool and improved call center experience will allow us to easily scale to meet demand once more vaccine doses are available to Kroger Health.”
As of Feb. 16, Kroger said, Kroger Health has administered more than 380,000 COVID-19 vaccinations in 25 states to essential health care workers, skilled nursing facilities, elderly populations, educators and eligible company associates. Currently, 1,300 of Kroger Health’s 2,200 pharmacies are receiving and administering coronavirus shots. Kroger Health also has 220 Little Clinic locations for immunizations.
Cincinnati-based Kroger noted that it could administer an average of nearly 500,000 vaccinations per week if all Kroger Health pharmacy locations can get doses of the vaccine. The company is one of 21 national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks tapped to receive direct shipments of COVID vaccines under the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination announced this month by President Joe Biden. As of Feb. 11, retail pharmacies participating in the public-private partnership began receiving limited vaccine supply to immunize priority population groups at no cost.
“Everyone who is eligible should make it a priority to schedule their COVID-19 vaccination appointment,” stated Dr. Marc Watkins, Kroger’s chief medical officer. “We know that the science behind the vaccines is sound, and we encourage everyone in our communities to use our online tools and call center to make an appointment to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19.”
Kroger said in December that it was ramping up preparations to administer COVID vaccinations. That included plans to hire nearly 1,000 health care personnel, including pharmacy technicians, to support operations and administration of COVID immunizations as well as train current associates for the effort. The company administered its first coronavirus inoculations in late December.
As of late Wednesday, Kroger’s website that it currently has a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines available in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Earlier this month, the company announced plans to issue a one-time payment of $100 to all associates who receive full doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Kroger Health also provides a range of COVID-19 testing solutions, including viral and antibody testing. Yesterday, the company unveiled plans to offer what it called the first smartphone-enabled, at-home rapid antigen test for COVID-19. Rapid antigen tests deliver results faster than the more common molecular PCR (viral) coronavirus tests.
In August, Kroger launched COVIDCare+, an employer solution including Kroger Health’s FDA-authorized COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit, which became available in July, and access to clinical services for primary health and wellness care. Viral, rapid antigen and rapid antibody testing also is available at Kroger Co. pharmacies and The Little Clinic in-store clinics. Kroger rolled out rapid antibody testing to all pharmacies and clinics starting last fall. Rapid antibody testing informs patients if they previously have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.