To speak to how Walgreens is preparing to serve its customers and patients, Dr. Kevin Ban, Walgreens chief medical officer; Tasha Polster, divisional vice president of pharmacy quality, compliance and patient safety; and Kaitlyn Vo, pharmacy manager in Plano, Texas; shared their insights with Walgreens Stories.
What do we need to know about this year’s flu season?
Dr. Kevin Ban: Typically, we look toward the Southern Hemisphere to see what type of flu season they had, and that will give us a good sense of how severe the flu season might be in the U.S. But with so many countries in lockdown, we don’t have a reliable data set. What we do know is that when preventive measures were relaxed for fully vaccinated individuals, people were less cautious about handwashing, social distancing, being in large indoor groups and wearing masks. Cases of the Delta variant have been able to spread more easily.
It’s truly fascinating when you see how flu, cold and COVID cases rise when people let their guard down. The viruses want to live and perpetuate. I know the term “twindemic” has been tossed around because there could be a surge in flu and COVID-19 cases. It didn’t happen last year because people were vaccinated against the flu in record numbers and followed basic hygiene protocols. We can avoid a “twindemic” this year, too, especially if people get vaccinated and continue safe practices.
What’s crucial this year is to keep the pressure off the healthcare system. Usually, millions of people get infected with the flu, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and tens of thousands lose their lives. Everything we can do to prevent the impact of this disease is important since we are still grappling with the pandemic. What makes it more complicated is that the symptoms between the flu and COVID-19 tend to be similar. If you’re vaccinated against both, there’s a degree of confidence that any symptoms you experience are indicative of something mild, and that might save you some mental stress down the line. Regardless, any symptoms you have should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
Like the COVID-19 vaccine, the flu vaccines are exceptionally good at lessening the severity of the disease and the risk of being hospitalized. The fewer people hospitalized or likely to lose their lives, the better. These are preventable diseases and being vaccinated will lead to the best outcomes.
How are Walgreens pharmacies preparing for flu season?
Tasha Polster: We have more than 60,000 immunizers available to administer flu and COVID vaccine across the country. The Department of Health and Human Services extended the PREP Act to allow technicians to not only administer COVID vaccine, but flu vaccine to everyone ages 3 and above. With that expanded authority, we can avoid any challenges with workflow, because a pharmacist or pharmacy technician can give either or both vaccines to a patient.
We are expecting to conduct flu clinics, outreach and community events in medically underserved areas like we always have. We’ll also continue to contact local businesses and organizations to host clinics. It’s something we’re prepared to do – ensure we have the resources in our pharmacies and at clinics – to get as many people vaccinated as possible. We do anticipate that there will be high demand for booster shots, and we’ll be keeping our eye on volume in the stores and working with the CDC to make sure we have enough supply. At this point, we don’t have any concerns about the supply chain for COVID-19 or flu vaccine.
We’re very excited about our updated digital vaccine scheduler, available at Walgreens.com or through the Walgreens app. The scheduler has been enhanced to be more user-friendly and allow a patient to select an appointment time more easily. A patient can schedule their flu vaccine at the same time they schedule their COVID vaccine, plus indicate any interest they might have in additional immunizations, like whooping cough, pneumonia or shingles. Patients can digitally fill out paperwork so everything is ready when they arrive to the pharmacy for their vaccine.
Finally, we’re continuing all of the additional safety measures that we put in place when COVID began. In addition to masks, we continue to require that our pharmacy team members wear a face shield when administering a vaccine, and we ask our patients to wear face coverings in stores as well. We’ve stocked up on all our safety supplies, knowing that we might see an uptick of patients coming in to get immunizations.
What can I expect when I come in for a flu shot?
Kaitlyn Vo: First, I would encourage anyone who is unsure about getting a flu shot to talk to their local pharmacist. With every flu season, people tend to wait until there’s an outbreak, and then they come in for their vaccine when the numbers are already high. My team and I are prepared to inform you about all of the vaccines you can get – by the way, it’s not too early to get your flu shot – and answer any questions you might have. We’re happy to review records and get you up to date on all of your boosters during your appointment.
It’s all about planning ahead to make it a successful flu season. We want to make sure everyone is healthy, so it starts with vaccinating my team to kick off the season of combating this preventable illness. Ironically, flu season can be exciting for me because of my involvement with the community flu clinics that I am so passionate about. From the ground perspective, we ensure there is ample staffing of vaccinating pharmacists and technicians in the store fronts and out at clinics in the community as well as having more than enough vaccines to meet the demand for all age groups. For instance, for students who are going back to school, we’ve increased our inventory of meningitis vaccine, and for the seniors, the shingles, Tdap and pneumonia vaccines. It is rewarding for me to provide that continuity of care for the young to the old throughout my years as a retail pharmacist.
Our system allows us to process and adjudicate vaccine claims very easily and efficiently. The online appointment scheduler and mobile app have made it very intuitive to book appointments. Convenient and accessible, our pharmacy is meant to be your one-stop shop for all your immunization needs.
If I could share a message with anyone on the fence or who might be hesitant or concerned about getting the flu vaccine, I’d tell them to reach out to their pharmacist and get the facts. By taking the time to give the customers the facts, we build that trust that the Walgreens brand is known for. By making an informed decision and getting vaccinated, you are protecting your community and taking a personal responsibility not to overburden the healthcare system.
Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements. All statements in this release that are not historical are forward-looking statements made pursuant to the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve risks, assumptions and uncertainties, including, but not limited to, those related to the uncertainty related to the severity of the flu season and uncertainty related to widespread adoption and approval of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, as well as those described in Item 1A (Risk Factors) of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.’s Form 10-K for its fiscal year ending August 31, 2020 and in other documents that Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. files or furnishes with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may vary materially. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date they are made. Each of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. and Walgreens do not undertake, and expressly disclaim, any duty or obligation to update publicly any forward-looking statement after the date of this release, whether as a result of new information, future events, changes in assumptions or otherwise.