Before Americans can get their Covid-19 vaccine, some pharmacies need major improvements

Despite the special storage requirements for the Pfizer vaccine, grocery stores in pharmacies may outperform traditional drugstores and independent pharmacies because they already have storage space for vaccines that only require standard refrigeration.
Pfizer manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, MI.

“Grocery stores will help support a faster rollout of the national vaccination program,” David Bishop, a partner and analyst at retail and food consulting firm Brick Meets Click, told CNN Business. It simply depends on the capacity of the grocery stores, Bishop said. Many of the grocery stores that already operate pharmacies “have much larger and existing storage space, whether we’re talking in the back room or on the sales floor,” he said.

But the Pfizer vaccine will be sent to U.S. pharmacies, and grocery stores and drugstores will “start from scratch” when buying and using ultra-cold freezers, said Gary Bissig, vice president of LabRepCo, a company specializing in pharmaceutical research equipment.

Pfizer manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, MI.

The Pfizer vaccine comes in heat carriers that can be used as temporary storage filled with dry ice. The vials are kept under these conditions For 15 days, Pfizer said in a statement, this is a good opportunity for a quick turnaround, but not long-term vaccine storage, which is likely to be common. According to Pfizer’s instructions, the boxes can only be opened twice a day and for a maximum of one minute each time.

The vaccine can also be stored at temperatures between 2 ° C and 8 ° C in refrigeration units, which are usually available in hospitals, the company said, but the vials can only last for five days under these conditions.

Ultra-low temperature freezers extend the shelf life of vaccines by up to six months and can be useful in places where clinicians feel they may not be able to go through vaccinations quickly.

Flu and pneumococcal vaccines have been used in pharmacies for years, but in the United States, about 99% of pharmacies do not access a freezer at -80 ° C, Bissig said.

Bissig added that ultra-cold storage units are traditionally bought by “big hospitals” and “huge medical colleges” that use freezers for research. “The use of this freezer is traditionally used to discover drugs,” he highlighted. – It’s not for drug distribution.

LabRepCo began building small -80 ° C units for small pharmacies and clinics as soon as it learned of Pfizer’s vaccine storage requirements.

“Ultra cold freezers will be an essential part [Walgreens’] plan, “a Walgreens spokesman told CNN. We are exploring the use of a combination of these ultra-cold freezers and dry ice storage solutions to support these drugs. “

However, CVS plans to use Pfizer shipping containers instead of buying its own ultra-cold storage units. “Every five days, we’d charge dry ice for a total of 15 days,” a CVN spokesman told CNN Business. The vials can be refrigerated for an additional five hours. “Every dose would be used inside the window,” the spokesman said.

“We started manufacturing them as quickly as possible, but that wasn’t enough,” Bissig said. “These factories can’t grow to twice their normal size. All they can do is hire more people and try to get more raw materials and supplies and do their best.”

“Global demand for these products has swelled to unsustainable levels at this point,” he said.

Grocery store pharmacies are also being made, but many grocery store plans to purchase ultra-cold storage units depend on whether specific vaccines are allowed. When Pfizer’s vaccine is first approved, stores will focus on purchasing and using ultra-cold containers.

“Supermarket pharmacies are well placed to deliver Covid-19 vaccines in a safe and convenient location when they are available,” said Heather Garlich, vice president of the FMI, food marketing, food retailers and wholesalers trade group. The group is currently in contact with major refrigeration suppliers in the event that refrigeration is required beyond existing capacity.

Long lines

A sign can be read at the entrance to the pharmacy "The Covid-19 vaccine is not yet available."

It’s not just storage that matters. Dealing with potentially long lines in stores is another hurdle that pharmacies are likely to have to overcome.

Some clinics are already testing the administration of vaccines strategies with the influenza vaccine, while the pharmaceutical industry is awaiting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Jeffries health stock analyst Brian Tanquilut highlighted a pilot program at the Shreveport driving clinic in Louisiana. He said the clinic is testing flu vaccines to prepare for the development of a drive strategy for state-administered Covid-19 vaccines.

Similar to the CVS Covid-19 testing operation, vaccinations can only be used by CVS customers by prior registration and can be booked through the CVS website or application.

“Think of it as a round-trip ticket – book both servings at once, with a healthy number of reminders (text, call, etc.) before the first and second shots,” a CVS spokesman told CNN Business. There will also be 800 numbers for separate customers who do not have online access.

The Albertsons grocery chain is also preparing to vaccinate. According to the company, after the availability of the Covid-19 vaccine, recipients can fill out vaccination consent forms in Albertsons pharmacy applications, reducing time spent in the pharmacy.

In which pharmacies will there be a vaccination?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has published a list of pharmacies that have agreed to make the vaccine available to the public. The list includes Albertsons, Costco, CVS, Publix, Rite Aid, Kroger, Walgreens, Walmart and Winn-Dixie, among others.

The government has essentially “made agreements with these retailers to ensure they can run vaccines through them,” Tanquilut said. It is the job of these companies to figure out, in consultation with the government, which specific sites will be administering the Covid-19 vaccine.

Even with high demand, some Walgreens and CVS sites will not administer the vaccine, Tanquilut said. He stressed that not all CVS and Walgreens sites perform Covid testing, and the vaccination offering is likely to reflect this.

“They will be selected, larger venues that have these capabilities,” he added.

As for transportation, “it’s up to the government to figure out transportation because it’s a very allotted product,” Tanquilut said.

As it stands, May is probably the earliest vaccination destination for the population. But this could happen in June or later, depending on what the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices decides, what the vaccine supply looks like and how smoothly the distribution is. Healthcare workers, nursing home residents, high-risk adults and basic workers are expected to have access to the vaccine from December.

CVS and Walgreens are set to be among the first to administer Covid-19 shots in the United States if the FDA approves emergency use. But those vaccinations would take place in long-term care facilities, not retail stores, CVS and Walgreens write. CVS pharmacists will travel to the facilities, similar to how they operate on-site seasonal flu clinics, the company said in an email to CNN Business.

Spokesmen for Kroger, Publix, Albertsons, Wegmans and Gristedes were unable to share details about the purchase of the ultra-cold containers.

– CNN Naomi Thomas and Maggie Fox contributed to this report