- Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid are trying to reduce barriers to getting Covid-19 vaccines with approaches like same-day appointments and walk-ins.
- In the Chicago area, Walgreens is activating mobile clinics to reach people in underserved neighborhoods by bringing vaccines to them.
- Drugstore chains and public health officials are trying to keep up the momentum as the pace of vaccinations per day slows in the U.S.
On Monday, Walgreens announced it will provide same-day appointments at stores beginning on Wednesday. The company is also activating mobile clinics in underserved neighborhoods of Chicago that allow people people to walk up and get a shot. The mobile clinics, which resemble a van or a trailer, will expand to other cities, too, said Rina Shah, group vice president of pharmacy operations at Walgreens.
CVS began same-day appointments as of April 23, with customers able to schedule a vaccine in as little as an hour before, company spokesman Mike DeAngelis said. And Rite Aid said it's allowing walk-in vaccines on a limited basis.
The three drugstore chains are emphasizing flexibility and convenience as they try to reach people who are busy, hesitant or challenged by other barriers, such as lack of transportation or the internet. The U.S. is averaging 2.4 million reported vaccinations per day over the past week, as of Sunday, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, down from a peak of 3.4 million reported shots per day on April 13. That number has fallen off, even as all adults in every state are eligible.
In an interview, Shah said Walgreens has seen demand vary by region. In some parts of the country, she said appointment slots fill up quickly and in others, there are plenty of openings. With more doses ready to use and more people who qualify to be vaccinated, drugstores are better positioned to help, she said.
Widespread vaccinations will get the U.S. closer to "herd immunity" — the point when Covid-19 can't spread easily or quickly because most of the population has immunity, Shah said.
"As soon as we get to herd immunity, then we're in a much better place as a nation," she said. "Then, we can determine, 'Is a booster needed? Is it not? How do we get back to our normal lives and not be nervous or at risk of hospitalizations or deaths?'"
Some medical experts and scientists have expressed doubts about when — or if — herd immunity is possible, but have encouraged vaccinations to try to reach that goal.
CVS and Walgreens also have opened community-based clinics at sites like YMCAs, churches and nonprofits. The companies are signing contracts with major employers for on-site clinics, similar to during flu season.
CVS said it has given shots to a wide variety of Americans through contracts with Delta Air Lines, the city of Philadelphia and the New York Shipping Association, among others.
Walgreens has contracts with more than 100 employers including Apple and Amtrak.
"We are seeing an uptick in employers wanting to make sure all of their employees are covered and they can get back to work," Shah said.
Walgreens has administered more than 15 million Covid vaccines and CVS has administered more than 10 million. Rite Aid has given over 2.5 million vaccines as of April 15, Jim Peters, its chief operating officer, said on its earnings call.
Along with speeding along a return to work and more typical life, the vaccine effort is also a way for the drugstores to make money, draw foot traffic and build customer loyalty.