Community pharmacies will play a huge role in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.
Kroger, the nation's largest supermarket chain, anticipates its pharmacists will start vaccinating North Texans in the first approved groups by the end of the year.
"I'm hoping we are actively administering doses to those very limited populations probably in the last week of the year but then definitely into the early weeks of January. I see us expanding as the allocations start to expand out and we start to expand that to additional populations, " said Jeff Loesch, the Director of Pharmacy for Kroger Health Dallas.
Loesch says all pharmacies in Kroger's 100-plus stores in North Texas are enrolled in the COVID-19 vaccine program.
While shots for the general public are still months away, Loesch has an idea of what the program could look like including the possibility of a drive-thru vaccination clinic similar to the flu shot clinic Kroger hosted back in September at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
"And that could very well be a combination of appointment-based systems where we're setting up an appointment system where patients can go in and make an appointment to get the vaccine at pharmacies. It could be walk-in to our pharmacies, but I also think there's going to be a need for us to do some large scale events as well," Loesch said.
Loesch says the ramp-up to COVID-19 vaccination has included buying more refrigeration and freezer units for some stores as well as hiring more pharmacists and technicians.
"I think it's a natural transition to continue to be involved in this pandemic and to help bring COVID-19 vaccinations and provide an additional access point and really help with the overall effort to get the public vaccinated," said Loesch as he described Kroger's involvement in COVID-19 testing and now vaccinations.
"The CDC took a look at pandemic planning and estimated that we can vaccinate 80% of the nation seven weeks sooner if pharmacists are engaged in the process versus not having pharmacists engaged in the process. So, when you look at that, it really is significant in terms of being able to save lives and reduce several cases of illness from COVID-19. So, there's not a choice not to be involved and we are actively involved in playing a large a role as we can," Loesch said adding that nine of 10 Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy.
Kroger is among the numerous companies enrolled in a partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services to help deliver the COVID-19 vaccine to Americans. Albertsons, CVS, Walgreens and Costco also are in the HHS program intended to maximize access to COVID-19 vaccines for all Americans.