Walgreens Provides an Update on COVID-19 Vaccination Administration Across the Country

In a progress update on COVID-19 vaccine administration and testing in Walgreens pharmacies, speakers discussed the rollout and implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination process in LTC facilities.

In a progress update on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine administration and testing in Walgreens pharmacies, speakers discussed the rollout and implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination process in long-term care (LTC) facilities. They also discussed progress among other high-risk populations, such as seniors and those with chronic conditions, in states that have already begun phase 1b.

To date, Walgreens has provided well over 1 million vaccine doses to patients, with the expectation that they will vaccinate close to 10,000 LTC facilities by January 29, according to Rick Gates, the senior vice president of Pharmacy and Healthcare at Walgreens, during the session. Additionally, there are approximately 40,000 clinics that have been scheduled.

“Moving past long-term care facilities, we’re set up pretty successfully with 9000 points of care and different models that we can actually leverage in the communities that we serve as well. We are ready and eager to support [President Joseph Biden] in his expansion of vaccine efforts,” Gates said.

Gates explained that Walgreens has been working closely with states, HHS, and the CDC to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable during the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine administration and testing.

“At the end of the day, we will be vaccinating upwards of 3 million doses in 2 dose series for patients,” Gates said.

Rina Shah, PharmD, group vice president of pharmacy operations and services at Walgreens, said that the administration of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in skilled nursing facilities will be completed by January 25. Walgreens’ vaccination efforts have been active across 49 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico, with activation dates and prioritization schedules for skilled nursing facilities set by each state.

Shah noted that being a part of the COVID-19 vaccination process in skilled nursing facilities has been a humbling experience for Walgreens staff, as they were able to see patients express their feelings in light of the opportunities that vaccination provides them with once more. Shah explained that many patients have remarked on their joy at being able to plan to see family members again, with a return back to normal life being clearer on the horizon than has been possible in almost a year.

“We are that ray of light for them,” Shah said.

Shah also cautioned that with the limited vaccine supply available, patience is necessary. Both Walgreens and CVS have faced criticism regarding the speed of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination in the country. However, in light of the unprecedented task before them, it is essential that Walgreens staff follow state and federal guidance in order to ensure the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccination process.

In terms of the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines themselves, Kevin Ban, MD, the chief medical officer of Walgreens, explained that for many people in the country, the concept of a vaccine may exist rather abstractly, and the amount of information that has been released that provides further data may potentially be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the science.

“All of the platforms that are being used to develop these vaccines, whether they’re messenger RNA or viral vector, already existed. The scientific community came together to collaborate so that they were able to sequence this virus such that we had a vaccine available within 5 days of the development of that sequence,” Ban said. “Then, what you saw was that the manufacturers and the regulatory body, in this case the FDA, worked very closely together such that when they made it through phase 1, the data was [sic] made immediately available, and the FDA reviewed it quickly. Then that happened in phase 2 and again in phase 3.”

Ban noted that it is important to understand that all of the safety checks required in vaccine development were met throughout the developmental process of each COVID-19 vaccine that received an emergency use authorization from the FDA. The speed of the process was not due to a lack of these safety checks, but rather due to effective collaboration among the scientific community.

“I really want to encourage people to feel comfortable with the science here, and to get vaccinated when you’re eligible,” Ban said.

In regard to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants that have emerged around the world, Ban explained that some context is necessary in relation to how the scientific community has been preparing and planning for these variants from the beginning.

“Viruses mutate, viruses evolve. This is normal, we expect this. I’ve had multiple conversations over the course of the past year discussing that very factor. So, we expected this. Now, what we’re finding is that a couple of virus strains, specifically one from the UK, another from South Africa, are becoming more predominant. And what we know about the UK strain, in particular, is that it is, in fact, more contagious, and it seems to have about the same severity, but it is more contagious,” Ban said.

Ban noted that for this reason, the precautions that many have become accustomed to during the pandemic, such as washing hands, social distancing, wearing a mask, and staying at home when sick, remain critical elements in light of the potential presence of SARS-CoV-2 variants.

“This will allow us to decrease the transmissibility of this virus, even if it is more contagious,” Ban said.

Yet there remains hope in light of the COVID-19 vaccinations that have taken place across the country. At a skilled nursing facility on the first day of COVID-19 vaccinations, Walgreens pharmacist Lisa Tyler explained that greetings at the facilities were unbelievable and unlike anything she had experienced before.

“We were greeted with such fanfare from not only the staff but the residents,” Tyler said. “They cheered for us, they were clapping for us. It was like they had been waiting all this time for us to arrive. One of the nurses at the facility I was in held a sign up that said ‘This is the end of the 2020 pandemic. This is the first step to our old normal.’ This really hits home as to how they’ve been really waiting for this, and what a key role we as pharmacists are going to play in this.”

REFERENCE

Gates R, Ban K, Shah R, Tyler L. Progress update on COVID-19 administration and testing. Presented at: LinkedIn Live; January 22, 2021; virtual. Accessed January 27, 2021.