INDIANAPOLIS — As health care workers across the state begin lining up for COVID-19 vaccines, many organizations and entities are preparing to roll out the vaccine to more people as it becomes available.
WRTV spoke to Walgreens Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Ban about how the company is preparing to play a big role in vaccinating Hoosiers.
Q: How is Walgreens preparing to administer this COVID-19 vaccine?
Dr. Ban: “So we have been working with the CDC, HHS, and Operation Warp Speed really from the beginning of all of this. And we know now that over the weekend as you mentioned the vaccine shipped and the allocations have been received by the states. The first part of this process will be to address the people on the front lines of this pandemic. So those are the health care workers who already as you mentioned are beginning to get their vaccines. Now Walgreens is supporting that effort across the country as well. Next week, we are going to start our vaccine program in long term care facilities where we will be not only vaccinating the residents but also the employees who work there.”
Q: Who will receive the vaccines for Phase 1?
Dr. Ban: “This all comes from the CDC. They offered guidelines to the states, then the vaccine gets allocated to the states and really the states have the autonomy to decide where it goes but most of them are following CDC guidance and again, the first phase in what we are calling Phase 1A will address, or we will be giving vaccines to the people on the front lines, the health care workers, and then also people living in long term care facilities. That’s kind of a fancy way of saying nursing homes, and their employees. So that is the first phase. And then we will start in Phase 1B, we will start to broaden. You can expect that likely essential workers will be in that, people with chronic medical problems will be in that. Now, general population won’t happen immediately. We are still a few months away from the general population being able to get vaccinated but that can start as soon as the end of March, beginning of April.”
Q: What does the administration of the vaccine look like?
Dr. Ban: “I’ll take a step back and say that Walgreens has a deep tradition of being able to vaccinate the country. Our program has been in place for about 15 years. Over the course of the last 5 years, we’ve performed over 150 thousand flu clinics, very similar to these COVID clinics across the country. We’ve done that efficiently and safely. So, we feel like we really have the infrastructure that we need, not only, but we also worked with the federal government in 2009 to address the H1N1 flu pandemic where we were able to distribute and then administer the vaccine. So, we feel very comfortable that we are ready.”
Q: How will you keep track of when people are ready for the second dose?
Dr. Ban: “In that infrastructure I mentioned, not only do we have the processes and protocols in place to administer the vaccine, but we also have all of the technology so that we can be in communication with patients. So, it starts out really basic. When you get your vaccine, you will get a card telling you when you need the next vaccine. And then we will leverage text, email, we will even call people to make sure they get that second shot. It is fundamentally important that you get both shots. Lastly, if a patient has a primary medical doctor, we will close the loop with the primary medical doctor.”
Q: How are you working to keep the vaccines at a proper storage temperature?
Dr. Ban: “We were aware that this would be the case and so we have been able to handle this by having sites across the country that can receive the vaccine.”
Q: What is the cost of this vaccine for Hoosiers?
Dr. Ban: “The federal government purchased this vaccine both from Pfizer and Moderna, I should also mention, also from AstraZeneca and from J&J which we expect to be reviewed for emergency use authorization in the beginning of 2021. The federal government paid for all of this vaccine so for anyone who is eligible the vaccine will be free.”
Q: What do you encourage Hoosiers to do when they are able to get the shot?
Dr. Ban: “As a husband and father and son, I have given this a lot of thought. I have followed this process all the way through. The checkpoints around effectiveness but more importantly safety have been met. The data has been looked over with deep scrutiny. I feel very confident that this is a safe vaccine. My recommendation, mostly I want people to be educated so they can make a good decision for themselves. I’ll say it in a different way Lauren, I intend when I am eligible to get this vaccine.”