Anticipating Problems During First Wave of COVID-19 Vaccinations

Pharmacy Times® interviewed Rina Shah, PharmD, group vice president of pharmacy operations and services at Walgreens, on whether any unforeseen problems have arisen during the first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations at long-term care facilities.

Pharmacy Times® interviewed Rina Shah, PharmD, group vice president of pharmacy operations and services at Walgreens, on the first wave of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine administration at long-term care (LTC) facilities across the country.

In this discussion, Shah explains the level of communication with state governments that was required to vaccinate in LTC facilities state-by-state, as well as whether any unforeseen problems arose during the first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations that may help to elucidate planning for the next stages of vaccination.

Alana Hippensteele: With Walgreens’ current vaccination efforts active across 49 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico, was regular communication with individual state governments necessary in order to vaccinate in facilities state-by-state, or was Walgreens and its individual pharmacies given the independence to follow state and federal guidances and establish their own strategies in vaccinations?

Rina Shah: So, the program is set by CDC, which we are following, as well as Operation Warp Speed, and so we're following the guidelines that have been provided to us. However, as every state and jurisdiction has its own unique situation, we're also in continued conversation with the state. In many situations, we're talking to the state if not weekly then on a daily basis, just to make sure that we're supporting the needs of what's happening in that community.

At the end of the day, it's the state and the local jurisdiction that makes the decision on exactly how the program rolls out and who's eligible first. So, the communication between us with the states as well as the federal partners is critical so that we can make sure that we're adhering to what their priorities are.

Alana Hippensteele: Right. In the implementation of this program, were there any unforeseen problems that arose that may help to elucidate planning for the next stages of COVID-19 vaccination?

Rina Shah: When we look at the program in general, we've been planning and preparing for a couple of months now, and we're really confident in the rollout of the vaccines. We've had a plan in place for a very long time.

However, there's things that occur that require us to continue to be agile. For example, there are COVID-19 outbreaks that are continuing to occur in the [LTC] facilities, and so because of that, we've had to shift our schedules. Where initially we wanted to schedule the first week when the vaccine was available, we had to push it out by a week or 2 because we needed the [COVID-19] outbreak to be contained, all in coordination with the facility and the state.

However, those are things that are going to happen when you have a pandemic, and when you're rolling out nationally across 35,000 facilities. So, there have been challenges that have come about, but our teams have done an incredible job of being able to adapt and be agile in this situation, so that we can help support [them]. When weather hits and we didn't anticipate a huge snowstorm, that's going to impact how to get to the facility, or if there's vaccine hesitancy where we're having to educate more than what was anticipated.

This is why the 3 clinics are so great because we're able to educate staff members in that first one, and then be able to immunize them in that second clinic, and then catch them up on that third one. There are lots of things that we're learning that are helping us to build that foundation for when we expand into the other groups.