Meeting the COVID-19 Vaccination Need
As everyone in the grocery business is keenly aware, 2020 has presented its own set of unique obstacles throughout the industry. Priorities have been shifted as newfound customer demands were pushed to the forefront as a result of COVID-19.
The Topco cooperative is about member organizations pooling resources, insights and efforts to best serve local communities in which they reside. Never has our collective aggregation been more important than in a year mired in a global pandemic. While the membership has relationships with thousands of suppliers manufacturing an array of items, Topco can add the U.S. government to the supplier list, as members have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide COVID-19 vaccines.
When HHS and CDC indicated that they were limiting federal partnerships with pharmacy entities to those greater than 200 locations, Topco members did what they do best: acted as one. As the organizations’ ability to unite would be to the benefit of millions of individuals in diverse regions across the country, there was little hesitation, as Topco’s structure made for a perfect partnership with CDC.
These organizations coming together is nothing new. Topco members have partnered to leverage suppliers for more than 75 years to be able to provide affordable, high-quality items within their regional, locally owned, community-centered grocery stores. Members are uniquely positioned to serve in their communities, which include some of the most rural and remote areas across the country. They are strong community partners and have established trusted relationships with the shoppers they serve. Studies show that roughly half of shoppers view food stores as health-and-wellness allies while also indicating that food stores rank above health insurers and drug stores as preferred destinations for wellness.
To be among the first to have the COVID-19 vaccine is an incredible opportunity. We understand that it also requires the utmost responsibility. With more than 130 million at-risk individuals who could benefit from the vaccine — not counting their surrounding loved ones — this has been an all-hands-on-deck effort. Member pharmacies already have extensive experience safely serving their communities through this pandemic, and they’re well equipped for the vaccination opportunity. Despite customers’ justified reservations to leave the safety of their homes, grocers are still on the short list of destinations that individuals still frequent on a regular basis. During the pandemic, the membership has prepared for this by widening aisles throughout the store, sanitizing carts, and offering protective face masks to keep customers and store employees safe.
Also, the level of customer comfort within a store can’t be understated. Customers’ knowledge of grocery staff, brands and even item locations provide an added layer of personal safety when getting vaccinated.
Topco member pharmacies, being inside grocery stores, are extremely well positioned to educate the community on prevention of COVID infection through nutrition, sanitation and vaccine access. This is crucial because while waiting for the vaccine, many shoppers are asking what they must do to maintain safety between now and the vaccine’s availability. Members are well equipped to offer suggestions and guidance on how customers can support their immune systems using nutrients and vitamins, while also providing sanitation and cleanliness options.
Since upwards of 20,000 shoppers come through some members’ stores each week, Topco members' pharmacies will play a vital role in getting the country immunized in a rapid manner. Given the limited access in some more remote areas of the country, members’ ability to leverage aggregation has made it possible to provide access to regions that might not otherwise have support.
The existence of the Topco virtual national chain as a federal provider of COVID-19 vaccines and with it the partnership between CDC and Topco members stemmed from early success with HHS on rolling out COVID testing sites across some of its members in high-need areas. Topco members have conducted more than 150,000 COVID tests at stores spanning the country, many in areas where testing availability would otherwise be limited.
As part of the private-partner relationships with CDC, many Topco member pharmacies entered into agreements with states to be able to support vaccinations where needed, as part of Phase 1. The nation’s ability to transition into Phase 2 will rely on a more readily available vaccine supply. Topco member pharmacies are preparing for this full rollout by educating consumers, training staff, establishing additional cold-chain processes, identifying scheduling and screening protocols, and working with their local jurisdictions on communication strategies. We know that these are uncomfortable times for many. Because of this, we owe it to customers to provide as much information, insight and planning as possible.
This year has been incredibly challenging for all. As the country embarks on an unprecedented endeavor to help regain some sense of normalcy, Topco membership has striven to understand the responsibility of the demand and stepped up to support communities across the country. Their ability to work together reaffirms Topco’s strength-in-numbers mentality and is a prime example of the power that coming together can have on society. The level of trust that they’ve garnered from their local communities will go a long way toward ending these strange and unfortunate times.
Topco membership participating in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout includes:
- Associated Food Stores
- Bashas’ Inc.: Bashas’
- Big Y Foods Inc.: Big Y Pharmacy and Wellness Center
- Brookshire Grocery Co.: Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Super One Pharmacy, Fresh by Brookshire’s Pharmacy
- Coborn’s Inc.: Coborn’s Pharmacy, Cash Wise Pharmacy, MarketPlace Pharmacy
- Acme Albrecht: Acme Fresh Market
- Giant Eagle: Giant Eagle
- Hartig Drug Stores: Hartig Drug Co.
- King Kullen Grocery Co.: King Kullen
- K-VA-T Food Stores: Food City Pharmacy
- Ingles: Ingles Pharmacy
- Raley’s: Raley’s, Bel Air, Nob Hill Pharmacies
- Save Mart Supermarkets: Save Mart Pharmacies, Lucky Pharmacies
- SpartanNash Corp.: SpartanNash
- Price Chopper/Golub Corp.: Price Chopper, Market 32
- Tops Markets LLC: Tops Friendly Markets
- Wakefern Food Corp.: ShopRite
- Weis Markets Inc.: Weis Markets
- Wegmans Food Markets: Wegmans