Drugstore giants rush to hire for mass COVID-19 vaccinations

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Pharmacists and technicians are back in demand as U.S. drugstore giants gear up to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to millions of Americans in 2021. 

Kroger Health is hiring nearly 1,000 health care workers, including pharmacy technicians, to help administer vaccines at its 2,200 pharmacies and 220 clinics in 35 states, the grocery chain’s health care division announced Tuesday.

Aggressive recruitment efforts are already underway at CVS Health and Walgreens, both of which are playing a part in a rollout that involves immunizing those at nursing homes. The pharmacy giants are partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to vaccinate residents and staff at more than 50,000 long-term care facilities. 

“We continuously look for the right talent on an ongoing basis and are hiring 8,000 to 9,000 pharmacy team member roles to support the full spectrum of pharmacy and COVID testing and vaccine needs,” a Walgreens spokesperson stated in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.

Walgreens last week started administering Pfizer’s vaccine at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in Ohio and Connecticut. This week, the 9,000-store chain’s workers are going to about 800 long-term care facilities across 12 states to administer the vaccine. Walgreens ultimately plans to vaccinate nearly 3 million residents and staff at 35,000 facilities across the country.  

CVS is hiring 10,000 pharmacy technicians to buttress its COVID-19 efforts, including vaccinations, part of a larger recruitment effort unveiled in October. “We are also hiring pharmacists in certain geographies based on concentrations of long-term care facilities that selected CVS Pharmacy as a COVID-19 vaccination partner,” a CVS spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in an email. 

When the vaccine is available in its drugstores, possibly by late in the first quarter of 2021, CVS will have nearly 30,000 pharmacists and nearly 60,000 pharmacy technicians ready. “We’ll adjust our hiring levels to meet demand as has been the case since the start of the pandemic,” the spokesperson added. 

The profession looked far dicier as recently as this summer, when pharmacies and supermarkets were laying off pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, and the number of those looking for work exceeded the available jobs. 

“It’s a supply and demand thing — we didn’t have enough supply [a decade ago from pharmacy schools] and now we have too much supply,” Scott Knoer, president of the American Pharmacists Association, told the Wall Street Journal. The dynamic likely means that there will be enough workers to vaccinate the masses in 2021, he said.

One underlying factor impacting the profession is the move by consumers to online shopping, a trend furthered by the pandemic and that includes prescription drug purchases. Another is the count of drugstores and even grocery pharmacies has fallen in recent years, with the U.S. Department of Labor last year estimating the market for pharmacists to contract by 3% in the next decade. 

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