CVS' Merlo: Pharmacists can play a key role in easing patients' COVID-19 vaccine fears

With large numbers of Americans skeptical of a COVID-19 vaccine, CVS views its pharmacists as playing a key role in assuaging fears, CEO Larry Merlo said Friday.

Merlo, speaking at an event hosted by The Washington Post, said that pharmacists "are among the most trusted professionals" in the industry and as such will be able to educate patients about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

A recent Gallup poll found that only half of Americans would be willing to be vaccinated for COVID-19 if a vaccine were made available today.

"It is a concern, and it should be a concern for all as we think about fighting this virus and the role that the vaccine plays in doing that," Merlo said.

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Merlo said he's a pharmacist by trade himself and has experience working in a community pharmacy as a "trusted resource" for patients. He said he knew them and their families on a personal level, which opened the door for those conversations.

"Oftentimes, people are more comfortable asking you questions," he said.

He said another area where companies like CVS can be critical in educating customers is around mask wearing. He likened the need to wear masks to mandates about wearing seat belts, which was similarly an unpopular change that is now normal behavior.

He said this posed a major challenge in the spring, but educating staff and customers has gotten easier over the course of the year.

"Good social hygiene is our best defense as we keep our fingers crossed on that vaccine being available soon," Merlo said.

CVS is also gearing up to play a critical role in distributing a vaccine once it is made available, Merlo said. The healthcare giant has, for example, alongside Walgreens inked a deal with the Trump administration to quickly provide and administer a vaccine in long-term care facilities.