Priceline Pharmacy, with over 400 locations nationwide, will be a key player in this phase. General manager Andrew Vidler said earlier this month that the retailer was committed to helping the government protect the health of all Australians.
“Priceline Pharmacy has a proud history of providing vaccinations to millions of Australian over the years. In 2020, Priceline vaccinated more than 350,000 people against the flu alone,” Vidler said in a statement.
“In 2021, we will comprehensively participate in the Covid-19 vaccination program and are confident of managing this task professionally and efficiently.”
A company spokesperson told Inside Retail on Monday that they expect Phase 2a of the vaccine rollout to begin in May.
So far, more than 175 million Covid-19 vaccination doses have been administered around the world, with the US, China, EU and UK leading the way in terms of real numbers, while Israel and the United Arab Emirates are ahead on a per capita basis.
But as new, more transmissible, Covid-19 variants emerge, pressure is rising to speed up the global rollout. And logistics expert Jamie Dixon believes retailers are in a unique position to help, thanks to their proximity to customers and sophisticated logistics operations.
“Retailers may be able to assist with distribution as they can provide speed to market through their proximity to customers and established goods systems and processes,” Dixon, the director of XAct Solutions, now part of TM Insight, told Inside Retail.
There are several examples of this happening already.
Japanese retail group Aeon has agreed to turn its shopping malls into injection hubs following a government request. Major retailers in Spain, including El Corte Inglés, Carrefour and Ikea, have offered to vaccinate their staff to ease pressure on healthcare workers. And Walgreens is administering vaccinations in 15 states in the US after being selected as a pharmacy partner by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 80 per cent of the US population lives within five miles (8km) of a Walgreens pharmacy, according to the company. It recently launched mobile and off-site clinics to deliver vaccines in underserved and rural areas.
One of the biggest challenges in distributing Covid-19 vaccines is temperature control in the supply chain. All vaccines need to be refrigerated, and the Pfizer vaccine in particular must be stored below -70 degrees Celsius from the time it is manufactured until it is ready to be administered. After it thaws, it only lasts a few days.
“Dry ice can be used for temporary temperature control; however, this requires very strict dangerous and hazardous goods operating and handling processes,” Dixon said.
Fortunately, pharmacy retailers and their logistics partners are accustomed to handling and distributing temperature-controlled products, so they can leverage existing capabilities.
But there’s also the sheer volume of vaccines that need to be distributed.
It’s not yet clear what percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, but for measles, it’s 95 per cent, and for polio, it’s 80 per cent, according to the World Health Organization.
Dixon believes retailers have the necessary logistics setup to help governments meet these targets.
“The retail industry is quite mature in logistics compared to other industries largely due to the rise of online shopping and the need to optimise and control their last mile strategy,” he said.
“This has led the retail industry to have relatively more sophisticated logistics systems and processes, which would assist in distributing the vaccine.”
Enter Amazon and Uber
Last month, Amazon offered to lend its operations, IT and communications expertise to the US government, which is looking to dramatically ramp up delivery of the vaccine. And recently Uber announced it would provide 10 million free and discounted rides to help ensure transportation is not a barrier to getting a vaccine.
“There are some innovative approaches overseas when it comes to the distribution of the vaccines and there’s no reason why similar methods can’t eventually be adopted here,” said Paul Zahra, CEO of the Australian Retailers Association.
“Our priority should be on a swift and streamlined vaccination process. Pharmacies in particular are well placed to administer the jabs, and we look forward to seeing them added to the list of vaccine locations soon.”
Zahra also believes retail workers should be among the first groups to receive the vaccine in Australia.
“We’re not seeking priority over health, aged care workers or vulnerable people in the population – nobody would argue that. But there is a strong case for retail workers to be included in the cohort after those groups,” he said.
“They have remained at the coalface of the Covid workforce – often as Australians only point of interaction outside the home during lockdowns and restrictions.”