Meijer and Publix Super Markets are among the grocery retailers now prioritizing educators for COVID-19 vaccinations under a new federal directive.
As part of a national plan to reopen schools shut during the pandemic, President Joe Biden last week ordered that all states prioritize school personnel and childcare workers for coronavirus shots. To that end, pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination this week are slated to begin putting teachers and staff in pre-K-12 schools and childcare programs at the top of the list for vaccines, with a goal of getting members of this population group their first inoculation by the end of March. Those eligible will be able to sign up for an appointment at over 9,000 pharmacy locations nationwide.
Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer is partnering with the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) to kick off a round of COVID-19 vaccine clinics at its stores this week to facilitate vaccinations of teachers and school staff across the state. Plans call for Meijer to hold a dozen clinics for educational personnel in grades pre-K to 12 by the end of the week, administering more than 10,000 doses.
Meijer said patients will be asked to verify their school affiliation and provide identification when signing up through its online vaccine registration website. Teachers in Indiana also can register by texting “ISTA” to 75049, which will help them identify as a K-12 school employee.
“We are very pleased to continue to support the state of Indiana with this extremely important initiative,” Jason Beauch, vice president of pharmacy at Meijer, said in a statement. “With nearly 40 stores in Indiana, our pharmacy teams have been working across the state for weeks to administer vaccine doses to seniors, and we’re proud to broaden this outreach to include teachers, who are such an important part of our communities.”
As a state and federal COVID vaccination partner, Meijer said it has already worked directly with local school districts to administer more than 3,000 doses to teachers. The supercenter retailer plans to continue coordinating clinics in the coming weeks based on the number of doses it receives from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over the past several weeks, the company has administered over 25,000 doses in Indiana and, since mid-January, more than 200,000 overall across the Midwest.
Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix on Monday said that starting in South Carolina on March 9 and in Florida on March 10, the company will begin prioritizing COVID-19 immunizations for teachers, school staff and child care workers who work in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff and bus drivers), and those who work as or for licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers.
Publix also announced Monday that it has received its first shipment of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine and plans to begin administering it in its Florida pharmacies on Saturday, March 13. Thus far, Publix has been providing the two-shot Moderna vaccine in all 43 Florida counties with Publix Pharmacy locations. The company said that to allow eligible individuals to select which vaccine they will receive, starting March 10, every Wednesday scheduling opportunity will be dedicated to appointments for the Johnson & Johnson vaccination, made online at publix.com/covidvaccine.
Besides Florida, Publix has administered the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible population groups in selected Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia pharmacies since January.
Along with the nation’s three largest drugstore chains — CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens and Rite Aid — grocery retail partners in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program include Walmart/Sam’s Club, The Kroger Co., Albertsons Cos., Ahold Delhaize USA, Costco Wholesale, H-E-B, Hy-Vee and Southeastern Grocers. The group also includes food and drug chains in the Topco Associates network, such as Wegmans Food Markets, ShopRite, Giant Eagle, Brookshire Grocery, Price Chopper, Save Mart, Weis Markets, Coborn’s, Big Y Foods, Acme Fresh Markets, Associated Food Stores, King Kullen, Food City, Ingles Markets, Raley’s, Tops Friendly Markets and SpartanNash supermarkets.
“As yet another move to help accelerate the safe reopening of our schools, let’s treat in-person learning like the essential service that it is. And that means getting essential workers who provide that service — educators, school staff, childcare workers — vaccinated immediately,” Biden said March 2 in announcing the teacher vaccination drive.
“Over 30 states have already taken steps to prioritize educators for vaccination. And today, I’m using the full authority of the federal government by directing every state to do the same. My challenge to all states, territories and the District of Columbia is this: We want every educator, school staff member and childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March,” the president said. “To help make this happen, starting next week and for the month of March, we will be using our federal pharmacy program to prioritize the vaccination of pre-K through 12 educators and staff and child-care workers. Throughout March, they will be able to sign up for an appointment at a pharmacy near them.”
Meanwhile, supermarket industry stakeholders continue to push for grocery store associates — designated as essential workers by the federal government in March 2020 — to be prioritized for vaccines. Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom clarified that grocery workers are now eligible to get COVID-19 shots in all counties as part Phase 1B, Tier 1, of the state’s vaccine distribution plan. The governor’s office worked on the effort with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), the California Department of Food & Agriculture and California Grocers Association President and CEO Ron Fong, who serves on the CDPH Vaccine Advisory Committee.
“Public recognition by Gov. Newsom and the state of California of the essential services grocery workers provide to their communities and the prioritization of their health and safety is an important victory for the food sector,” FMI-The Food Industry Association President and CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a statement.
“As a result of the uneven experience across state lines, with many states shifting their vaccine prioritization frameworks counter to federal guidance, food industry essential workers in some jurisdictions are struggling to access vaccinations,” Sarasin explained. “Food sector workers — from manufacturing/production employees necessarily working in close proximity, to 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 — should be prioritized to receive COVID-19 vaccines just as the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization (ACIP) and National Academy of Sciences have already recommended. To do otherwise ignores the critical role these individuals play in keeping the country nourished.”
On March 4, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee directed the state health department to include grocery and food industry workers in the next stage of COVID vaccine eligibility, Phase 1B Tier 2, starting on March 22.
“Today’s announcement that grocery workers have been prioritized for vaccination is the best possible news for our members. We thank the governor for acknowledging the amazing effort our essential workers have made over the last 12 months and for recognizing that the best reward is to get them vaccinated as soon as possible. He has done the right thing,” the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association said in a joint statement last Thursday. “Now it’s time for Seattle and Burien to remove unfair, illegal and burdensome pay increases that jeopardize neighborhood grocery stores and do nothing to make grocery workers safer. We also encourage other cities grappling with how best to reward grocery workers to focus first on prioritizing vaccine distribution to the grocery workers in their communities.”
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1776 last week called on Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and the state department of health to prioritize essential food industry workers for coronavirus vaccine. The Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based union said its 35,000 members include more than 20,000 grocery store and pharmacy workers, 2,000 workers in meatpacking and processing facilities, and thousands of others in food processing and packing plants across the state.
“Now that it is crunch time, we cannot get the vaccines into their arms,” UFCW 1776 President Wendell Young stated. “We process the food. We pack it. We stock the shelves and man the registers in grocery stores from southeast Pennsylvania to West Virginia and Ohio. There is no other local in Pennsylvania whose members play this vital role in our food supply chain.
Young noted that 90% of UFCW 1776 members are considered “essential workers” under state guidelines and, according to a recent study in Philadelphia, essential workers have a 55% higher chance of contracting COVID-19.
“Stalling vaccinations for these essential workers is a dangerous policy mistake,” he added, “and we are urging our members and all frontline essential workers to join us and call Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and tell them to do the right thing.”