US retailers take leading role in COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Date : 16 March 2021

Stewart Samuel

Program Director - Canada

We look at how US food and drugstore retailers are playing a pivotal role in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the country as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program (FRPP).

Vaccine distribution exceeds over 71m people

With over 71m people having received at least one vaccine dose, representing over 20% of the population, the US has made significant progress with its distribution plan. Due to their longstanding pharmacy operations and extensive store networks, the leading food and drugstore retailers have taken on a key role to support this. During March, the Biden administration is prioritising vaccinating educators and staff and child-care workers through the FRPP. This builds on earlier efforts to administer COVID-19 vaccine doses to residents and staff at long-term care facilities. Participating pharmacies receive COVID-19 vaccine supply directly from the federal government, which is used to vaccinate state-selected priority groups at no cost.

Walmart’s reach into rural areas

With one of the most extensive store networks, especially in rural areas, Walmart stores in over 30 states are currently administering the vaccine. To drive higher vaccination rates in vulnerable communities, the retailer has created a series of community events to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. These events build on Walmart’s ongoing vaccination program at more than 1,400 store pharmacies.

Kroger increases operational capacity to 1m doses per week

Kroger Health, the retailer’s healthcare division, has significantly increased operational capacity, enabling it to deliver 1m doses per week. These will be delivered through its 2,250 in-store pharmacies and 220 clinics, and mass vaccination off-site events. The retailer is also using the first hour of pharmacy operations as a focus hour assigned to administering the FDA-authorised vaccines. In addition, Kroger has been at the forefront in offering diagnostic COVID-19 testing solutions, including being the first retailer to offer rapid antibody tests to customers.

Source: Kroger

Albertsons passes 1m doses mark

The country’s third-largest food and grocery retailer, Albertsons, recently passed the 1m does administered mark. Collectively, its network of over 1,700 in-store pharmacies can administer 150,000 does per day. In addition to providing solutions to underserved and rural customers, it has been offering appointments to teachers as part of the national priority to vaccinate America’s educators. It has also been hosting mass-vaccination clinics away from its stores.

Walgreens drives vaccine through team of over 40,000 immunizers

As one of the country’s leading drugstore retailers, Walgreens has taken a key role in vaccine distribution with approximately 5m COVID-19 vaccinations completed across long-term care facilities, in stores and through dedicated clinics. Starting next month, an additional 1,500 Walgreens stores will begin offering drive-thru, diagnostic COVID-19 tests, increasing the retailer’s number of test locations to 5,000, with more than half located in socially vulnerable areas.

CVS Health ramps up capacity to administer up to 25m shots per month

CVS Health, through its CVS Pharmacy locations, is administering vaccines in nearly 1,200 stores. It continues to increase the number of stores in line with vaccine supply, with the capacity to administer 20-25m shots per month. It is also focused on priority populations, including vulnerable communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic as well as teachers and school support staff.

Source: CVS Health

Trusted partners

The role these retailers, along with over 15 additional pharmacy operators, are playing in this mass vaccination programme is a critical one. This is likely to further enhance their status among consumers, especially given the high level of trust which existed prior to the pandemic. Pharmacists have a long track record in administering vaccines, such as the flu shot, and educating patients. Retailers should be able to optimise this, given the heightened focus on health and wellness which is expected to outlast the pandemic.

Retail Analysis weekly newsletter

Keep up-to-date with the latest retail developments shaping the industry.

Sign up for our newsletter »