Vaccine Collaboration: The Importance of Immunization Partnerships

SupplementsNovember 2017 Immunization Supplement

Vaccinations are among the most important preventive measures universally recommended by health authorities today.

Vaccinations are among the most important preventive measures universally recommended by health authorities today. See Figure1 for estimates of illnesses, medical visits, and hospitalizations prevented during the 2015-2016 flu season as a result of flu vaccination.

However, global vaccination coverage still has much room for improvement.21 In the United States alone, approximately 50,000 adults die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases such as influenza and measles—more than from HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, or even traffic accidents.3 Globally, an astounding 1.5 million deaths could be avoided with improved vaccination coverage.2

Throughout the world, a growing need exists for access to life-saving vaccines, which is why Walgreens collaborates with organizations including the United Nations (UN) Foundation and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), among others in both the public and private sectors, to help improve access and vaccination rates here in the United States and around the world.

The Importance of Strategic Partnerships

Charles R. Walgreen, Sr, opened the first Walgreens drugstore in 1901, and that single drugstore started not only a leading national drugstore chain, but what is now a global enterprise as part of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc, (WBA) whose purpose is to help more people worldwide lead healthier and happier lives. As the company has continued to evolve, it has also developed more of a partnership mindset, forming strategic collaborations to help expand, innovate, and better serve our customers and communities. This practice has been an integral part of Walgreens’ efforts to improve vaccination rates and population health, and it positions the company and our stores to care for more people and communities around the world.

The First Collaboration

Walgreens has long recognized the importance of life-saving vaccines. Our pharmacists have been administering vaccines in approved states since 2006—at that time, pioneering a concept that would later help shape the role of pharmacists as part of the larger health care team. In addition to the access provided by having thousands of pharmacies across the nation, the team at Walgreens knew that there was more the company could do.

In 2009, insurance providers were not yet required by law to cover flu shots and other vaccines, leaving many uninsured and underinsured Americans vulnerable during the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic. We began to look at ways to address the issue, to help provide more immunization resources, as well as explore new ways to better serve our communities. This led to the first of many conversations between Walgreens and HHS.

“As the federal department overseeing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], HHS is the preeminent resource in the United States for immunizations,” said Tasha Polster, divisional vice president overseeing the Walgreens immunization program. “HHS shares our vision to improve vaccination rates, particularly when it comes to flu vaccinations, so it was an easy decision to join forces through our public and private sector capabilities. The relationship has continued to grow over the past 8 years, and together we’ve been able to make a tremendous impact in communities across the country.”

Walgreens’ partnership with HHS allows individuals who are uninsured, underinsured, or cannot afford to pay for their flu shot to get immunized at no cost at any Walgreens or Duane Reade pharmacy throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, as well as at Walgreens Healthcare Clinics, through a voucher program. The program also gives Walgreens pharmacists the opportunity to become more involved in their communities by helping to distribute flu shot vouchers to qualified individuals and/or administering flu vaccine at a variety of offsite clinics. Each year, with the assistance of HHS, Walgreens distributes the vouchers through a variety of outreach efforts, local events, and community and faith-based organizations nationwide, such as FamilyWize, Americares, and many others.

“Our partnership with Walgreens has been crucial to extending the protections of flu vaccination to the communities we serve,” said Matthew Lin, MD, deputy assistant secretary for minority health and director of the HHS Office of Minority Health. “By working together to address disparities in flu vaccinations, we are not only helping people avoid unnecessary illness and hospitalization, but also saving lives.”

Since the 2 organizations first collaborated 8 years ago, Walgreens has donated more than $60 million worth of flu vouchers to communities and individuals in need across the United States.

Global Impact

While the voucher program was focused on improving access to vaccines in the United States, there is a much larger challenge globally: 1 in 5 children worldwide lack access to life-saving immunizations, and a child dies every 20 seconds from a vaccine-preventable disease.4 Tackling this issue on a global scale was the genesis for conversations with the UN Foundation to see how our organizations could work together to make an impact.

In 2012, the UN Foundation launched its Shot@Life campaign, a movement to protect children worldwide by providing life-saving vaccines where they are most needed. This new initiative aligned with Walgreens’ own goals to improve vaccination rates and access, which led to the development of the Get a Shot. Give a Shot. campaign in 2013.

Get a Shot. Give a Shot. is a year-round campaign to help provide life-saving vaccines to children in developing countries. Led by Walgreens and the UN Foundation, for every flu shot or other vaccination administered at Walgreens pharmacies, Walgreens Healthcare Clinics, or Duane Reade pharmacies, Walgreens donates the value of a life-saving vaccine to a child in need through the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign.

“When the campaign first launched, Walgreens footprint was only domestic. We were not yet a global organization, but we were on a path for expansion and already functioning with a global mindset,” said Polster. “We wanted to make a positive impact both in the communities we were already serving and in the communities we could one day serve, however far out in the future that may be. The UN Foundation was a natural fit, and we are proud of the tremendous impact the program has made.”

The Get a Shot. Give a Shot. campaign is now entering its fifth year, and thanks to the continued support of Walgreens customers, the campaign has helped to provide more than 20 million polio and measles vaccines.

The CDC and State and Local Departments of Health

In addition to collaborations with HHS and the UN Foundation, Walgreens also works closely with the CDC and state departments of health during times of outbreak of diseases such as whooping cough and meningitis. This allows for a quick response to people potentially at risk in impacted areas, and these collaborations demonstrate the value of pharmacists in improving access to vaccine. It has also been instrumental in the expansion of pharmacists’ immunization privileges in most states across the United States.

Recently, Walgreens worked with state and local departments of health in response to hurricanes and other destructive events, which has led to protecting more individuals against vaccine-preventable diseases such as tetanus and hepatitis.

The Future of Vaccine Access

Given its strong commitment to improving vaccine access, the WBA and a number of other companies were invited by the United Nations to align with a set of 17 sustainability goals established in 2015. These goals aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all, which includes providing affordable and essential vaccines to those in need.5 After a thorough understanding of what each goal entailed, WBA aligned this understanding with our corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals, which helped to streamline and support WBA’s existing CSR plans. Together with the numerous countries and organizations that have also committed in some capacity to the global sustainable development goals, WBA aims to help the world reach its sustainability targets by 2030.6

Through its strong partnerships and with the support of Walgreens customers, Walgreens and WBA overall will continue to provide increased access to life-saving vaccines to people in the United States and around the world.

Alex Novielli, PhARMD, is senior manager of pharmacy operations (immunization services) at Walgreens in Deerfield, Illinois.


  • The benefits of flu vaccination 2015-2016 infographic. CDC website. Updated February 15, 2017. Accessed October 27, 2017.
  • Immunization coverage fact sheet. World Health Organization website. Updated July 2017. Accessed October 20, 2017.
  • Top reasons to get vaccinated. National Foundation for Infectious Diseases website. Accessed October 20, 2017.
  • Global health security: immunization. CDC website. Updated February 13, 2014. Accessed October 20, 2017.
  • Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. United Nations website. Accessed October 20, 2017.
  • Contributing to the United Nations sustainable development goals. Walgreens Boots Alliance website. Accessed October 20, 2017.

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