COVID Vaccinations Could Be A Shot In The Arm For CVS, Walgreens, Other Pharmacies 

“We’re going to fully activate the pharmacies across the country to get the vaccination into more arms as quickly as possible,” Biden said in a speech on Friday (Jan. 15), outlining his plan to vaccinate 100 million Americans during his first 100 days in office.

“Millions of Americans now turn to the local pharmacies every day for their medicines, flu shots and much more,” Biden said. “We’re going to immediately start new major efforts, working directly with both independent and chain pharmacies to get Americans vaccinated. This program will expand beyond [other planned] access in neighborhoods across the country, so that you can make an appointment and get your shot, conveniently show up at a particular time and get it done quickly.”

The pharmacy industry is lauding the plan. 

Pharmacies and pharmacy teams are ‘all in’ to help all Americans overcome this pandemic and get back to what we need and what we love,” Steven Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, said in a statement following Biden’s remarks. It remains our top priority to provide safe and effective COVID-19 vaccinations, efficiently and equitably.”

Good News for Struggling Pharmacies 

A program that sends millions of Americans into pharmacies for COVID-19 vaccines could be a real shot in the arm for an industry that’s suffered during the pandemic.

While pharmacies have generally stayed open as “essential” businesses, experts say they’ve lost revenues due to the outbreak. After all, Americans are ordering more goods online or picking up toiletries and other pharmacy mainstays at grocery stores to minimize exposure to more than one shop.

Experts say that masks and social distancing have also cut down on non-COVID illnesses like colds, reducing consumers’ need for things like cough syrup. People are also skipping non-COVID doctors’ visits, cutting demand for prescriptions.

COVID-19 vaccinations look like a way to get customers back into stores.

Analyst Brian Tanquilut of Jefferies recently upgraded CVS stock to a “Buy” rating due in part to Biden’s plan, predicting that the program will bring in consumers who will buy other things while they’re there for the free shots. He estimated the chain could see about $1 billion in extra gross profits over the next year as a result, per Yahoo! Finance.

“We believe earnings expectations and CVS shares have little benefit baked in from COVID vaccinations, so we see likely earnings upside surprises over the next few quarters from this driver, [which] we believe will translate to [a] meaningful stock upside,” Tanquilet wrote.

Pharmacies are certainly enthusiastic.

“Walgreens applauds President-elect Biden’s plan to accelerate vaccine distribution efforts by utilizing pharmacies across the country,” Walgreens President John Standley said in a statement following Biden’s speech. “With our nationwide footprint, extensive vaccine experience, trusted community presence and pharmacy expertise, Walgreens is well-positioned to administer COVID-19 vaccines and help our nation emerge from this pandemic.”

Karen Lynch, who will take over as president and CEO of CVS Health on Feb. 1, said that her company “has more than 90,000 trained healthcare professionals standing by, with the capacity to administer approximately one million shots per day through our 10,000 CVS Pharmacy locations across the country once the federal program is fully activated.”

Problems With Nursing-Home Vaccinations 

However, CVS and Walgreens are facing controversy over a government program that began last month, under which the two chains will vaccinate millions of patients and workers at nursing homes.

CVS’s Lynch said her company has had great success “in providing vaccines to one of the nation’s most vulnerable populations, having administered more than one million shots at long-term care facilities to date.”

However, critics say the initiative has only administered about a quarter of the 4.7 million COVID-19 vaccines that are available, and Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs told CNN recently that the program “has been a fiasco.”

Dobbs said the pharmacies had only distributed 5 percent of 90,000 available doses in his state as of late last week. He added that the pharmacies told him they’re having trouble finding enough people to staff the program, per CNN.

Still, pharmacies maintain that they’re uniquely qualified to help make a nationwide COVID vaccination program work, especially given many Americans’ leeriness about the shots.

“The trust of local pharmacists goes a long way [toward] increasing vaccine confidence across all communities,” said CEO Anderson of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.