Health Officials Tap Grocers for Vaccine Help

Giant Eagle is among the retailers inoculating frontline workers, vulnerable populations.

January 11, 2021

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The U.S. vaccination campaign against COVID-19 has been slow to roll out, with many states falling short of targets for inoculating populations with first priority, so federal and state health officials have turned to grocery stores with pharmacies to help in the effort, the Wall Street Journal reports.

About 5.9 million of 21 million doses of the U.S.-approved two-dose vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech SE had been administered as of last Thursday during the first of a three-stage vaccine administration plan, the New York Times reports. That’s far short of the U.S. goal of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of 2020.

Separately, President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team said Friday that his administration plans to release nearly all available doses to the states, breaking from the Trump Administration’s policy of holding back about half of its supply of doses to ensure that those already inoculated get the required second shot. Biden has promised that by his 100th day in office, 100 million vaccine doses would be administered.

National pharmacy chains including CVS and Walgreens had already been tapped to vaccinate staff and residents at about 50,000 long-term care facilities in the U.S. State officials have now reached out to Kroger, Stop & Shop Supermarket, Top Markets and other retailers weeks earlier than planned to help, too.

Giant Eagle, a NACS member, has administered vaccines in West Virginia nursing homes and is working with Ohio officials on efforts in that state. The Pittsburgh-based company is exploring with officials in several states utilizing public spaces like courthouses and fairgrounds as vaccination clinics, Vic Vercammen, chief pandemic officer, told the Journal.

“We’re not newly deputized, but as various authorities look at the population and see where qualified immunizers are, we’re well positioned to help where we can,” Vercammen told the Journal.

Kroger stores have sent employees to help inoculate people in long-term care facilities in several states, as well as vaccinating health-care professionals in-store.

Kroger is reportedly looking at ways to vaccinate as many as 800 people at a time in community events and believes it could immunize many more people if it could better access the vaccines. A company spokeswoman told the Journal that the Cincinnati-based grocer has received only about 4,500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines because of inconsistent state guidelines for vaccine distribution. This compares to the estimated 200,000 doses of the flu vaccine that Kroger administers each week in its stores during the flu season.

Likewise, Walgreens’s CEO said the pharmacy chain could vaccinate many more people than it currently is. Stefano Pessina noted that the stores “are just an agent for the states” and are “vaccinating at a pace that is a fraction of the pace that we could be doing. We could do much more as a pharmacy chain if we had a certain degree of freedom.”

In Texas, the Dallas County health department is reportedly set to open a COVID-19 vaccination center at the Fair Park fairgrounds to inoculate as many as 2,000 people starting this week as part of the state’s plans to open large-scale vaccination clinics, NBCDFW reports.

California last week OK’d giving the shots to groups outside of the first priority list if there’s a surplus of vaccines, so they don’t go unused, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Convenience store employees are among the frontline essential workers prioritized for the next round of access to COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended last month. The final decision on distribution rests with states and local governments, but many officials are expected to heed the CDC’s recommendations.

The CDC requires each state to file a plan for prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations among its residents. USA Today has curated a list with links to state plans. Access the list here.

In addition, MultiState maintains a COVID-19 State and Local Policy Dashboard, which includes information about vaccination plans. Access the dashboard here.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.