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Retail Will Play Major Role In Vaccine Distribution

The vaccines are locked and loaded. Now comes the hard part. As various governmental agencies, healthcare organizations and drug companies step up their efforts to get vaccines distributed, it looks like retail will have a major role to play.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has signed on dozens of grocery and pharmacy chains to provide COVID-19 vaccines once the inoculations are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Among the retailers are Kroger, Albertsons, CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid. All of them and others are part of “Operation Warp Speed,” which also includes drug makers, medical distributors and federal agencies.

“Grocers have emerged as providers of Covid-19 testing for employees and consumers during the pandemic,” said the WSJ. “Many supermarkets have offered customers flu shots for years, but vaccine distribution will require more coordination with state and federal agencies. In addition to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide distribution, states will receive their own allocation of doses. Many of these details are still being ironed out.”

Those details are bound to cause headaches, many of which grocers are already equipped to handle. They already transport goods in cold storage, and each of the three vaccines that will be available (Moderna, Pfizer, Astra-Zeneca) require some variation in refrigeration. While supermarkets have cooled their love affair with pharmacies they are still a major factor in the business. As Marketplace observed, if consumers head to the grocery store for the vaccine, it’s up to the retailer to make that trip count for than a needle jab.

“The importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and a convenient, efficient and safe delivery of the vaccine cannot be overstated,” Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI, formerly the Food Industry Association), said last week, Supermarket News reported. “Supermarket pharmacies stand ready to play a significant role in administering COVID-19 vaccines to the public when they are available. In the interim, supermarkets are working diligently to provide food, cleaning products and the full range of pharmacy services — including flu and other vaccinations — to support Americans’ health and well-being.”

CVS also expects to play a major part. In an email to some customers over the weekend, the company said it is “urgently” looking to add to its workforce so it can distribute vaccines. A page on its website details the hiring push for what it calls the “COVID-19 Vaccine Support Team,” comprised of pharmacists, nurses and pharmacy technicians that will help administer “millions of vaccines in 2021.” Jeff Lackey, vice president of talent acquisition at CVS, told the Boston Globe that the company planned to hire 15,000 workers, including 10,000 pharmacy technicians — at first to help administer a wave of flu shots, but soon to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. As of Tuesday (Dec. 8) CVS said it has hired more than 9,000 pharmacy techs and it plans to hire more.

Until there is a vaccine, research shows people will lack the confidence they need to resume their pre-pandemic way of life. According to PYMNTS’ Great Reopening report, U.S. consumers think their normal routines will be disrupted for longer than originally expected, and the average consumer is still highly concerned about the risks of leaving home. In terms of a vaccine, PYMNTS analysis shows 48.8 percent of consumers require a vaccine to be available before they would return to their routines, up from 40.5 percent on March 27 and 39.7 percent on March 17.

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