Kate Latta (far left) with the other team members who administered Walgreens' first COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 18: (from left) pharmacists Emily Wattenschaidt, Deanna Goodwin and Kokeb Abdulejelil and pharmacy intern Lucy Wentworth.
Early last Friday morning at a senior care facility in Columbus, 10 minutes from my store, I had the honor of giving an elderly woman the nation’s first COVID-19 vaccine from Walgreens. The process of immunizing Americans against the coronavirus has at last been set in motion, and is expanding this week at long-term care facilities across the country, with Walgreens helping to lead the way.
People have asked me: Was I nervous giving that first shot? You have to understand, I’ve probably given a thousand vaccines in my Walgreens pharmacy career. Every year, I’m a part of at least 10 offsite flu shot clinics. Pharmacists vaccinate every day in our stores. It’s nothing new. And the actual administration of the COVID-19 vaccine – the act of giving the patient the shot – is exactly the same as it is for any other vaccine.
That said, yes, I was definitely nervous. All of us at Friday’s clinics were a little bit – just to get the first ones under our belt so we can move forward. I'm sure every Walgreens pharmacist will feel that way at first, because this is different, a historic milestone, and we all know it.
You can feel the joy and relief. Another senior patient I vaccinated Friday was so grateful – so upbeat and happy to see us. Residents in most elderly care facilities haven’t been allowed to have visitors because of the pandemic, so while she was getting her shot, one of her family members actually appeared at the window outside to wave to her. She was so excited to show him she was getting the vaccine. I had to take a moment then to reflect on the magnitude of what we’re doing: This is changing people’s lives.
Pharmacists knew we would play a really big role when a vaccine became available. But now that we're in the moment, it’s clear just how big and how important that role is. No other profession is prepared to move the vaccination effort forward like pharmacists are. And at Walgreens, we already have the trust and presence in people’s lives to do it on a massive scale. From when the pandemic first took hold in the U.S. in March, our teams have constantly been there for patients, continuing to offer care, comfort and guidance over the phone or in person with 6 feet of distancing. In these moments, you make a difference in people’s day-to-day lives.
And now we take it a step further. When patients get the COVID-19 vaccine from their Walgreens pharmacist, many will already know us as the face of healthcare in their neighborhood. And because we’ve been giving other vaccines for a decade or more, we have a clear edge to be able to offer this one safely and efficiently right off the bat. Just three clinics into our effort in Columbus on Friday, we were already looking at how to improve our processes, to make changes that might double our output or maximize manpower. And we have incredible support: hundreds, if not thousands, of Walgreens employees who have been sacrificing behind the scenes for the last nine months to get us to this place. I may have been the one to give our first COVID-19 shot, but it was a shared victory for all of us.
I knew at a pretty young age I wanted to work in healthcare. I have two uncles who are pharmacists. Like all of my family, they feel comforted seeing the good I’m a part of right now, and knowing the end of the pandemic is on the horizon. They’re excited and proud.
So am I. In seven years at Walgreens, this is my proudest moment. We're going to show the world, after a year of fear and uncertainty tied to this virus, that it’s pharmacists who will lead us out.