JPM21: Rite Aid CEO braces for 'chaotic' few weeks as vaccine rollout expands

Rite Aid store
Rite Aid's CEO Heyward Donigan is bracing for a rough few weeks of the vaccine rollout as a new administration comes in and more people become eligible for the vaccine. (Rite Aid)

The CEO of major pharmacy chain Rite Aid is bracing for a “chaotic few weeks” in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, which has been marred by inconsistencies among states and localities.

Rite Aid CEO Heyward Donigan detailed the pharmacy chain’s role in vaccine distribution during a session as part of the J.P. Morgan virtual healthcare conference Monday. Donigan said that there could be changes in how vaccines are distributed with the incoming Biden administration, which has hinted at giving out all first doses and not holding any back for a second dose.

“I can’t predict what is going to happen,” Donigan said. “They have reached out to us and we are in contact to them.”

Rite Aid is one of the retail pharmacy chains alongside CVS and Walgreens partnering with the federal government to distribute vaccines.

The pharmacy chain will be distributing later phases of the vaccine as other chains have given out doses to long-term care facilities.

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Donigan did have one prediction, however.

“One thing for sure it is going to be pretty chaotic for the next few weeks as people try to move through this,” she said.

She said she has witnessed from afar that other organizations have had a hard time figuring out how many doses to send out to which facility to “orchestrate getting those doses to people’s arms,” Donigan said.

Some states have also differed on who should get the initial doses, which can cause challenges for pharmacies to determine how much vaccine supply to have available on a given day.

“If you open up a bottle and only get one dose, you have to figure out what to do with rest of the vial,” Donigan said. “We don’t want doses going unused, but it is extremely complicated how to figure out how to find the right people in that moment in that day.”

Jim Peters, Rite Aid’s chief operating officer, added the pharmacy chain is “absolutely prepared” to give a record of immunization and proof of immunization for any doses.

Rite Aid also detailed how it is preparing pharmacists to get ready to balance the surge of vaccinations coming when more of the public is eligible to get doses.

One of the areas the chain is looking to improve is having pharmacy technicians shoulder more responsibility to alleviate some of the burden on pharmacists. Rite Aid also hopes to improve workflow systems to become more efficient.

“We do believe it will free up another 20% of the pharmacist time in order to do these clinical services and vaccines,” Donigan said. “We will need a lot more for vaccines for sure.”