(Bloomberg) — CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. are aggressively recruiting pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and nurses to administer Covid-19 vaccines in long-term care facilities, just days before the drugstore giants are expected to play a key role in a large immunization effort.
Representatives from the two companies are making in-person and virtual pitches to independent pharmacists, according to National Community Pharmacists Association Chief Executive Officer Douglas Hoey. The outreach has surprised the group’s members because it suggests the chains don’t have enough people to run the massive effort, he said.
Pharmacy giants CVS and Walgreens are slated to administer Covid-19 vaccines to residents of more than 50,000 long-term care facilities through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The initiative could start in a few days, with a Food and Drug Administration advisory group set to review Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s vaccine candidate on Thursday.
Because CVS and Walgreens have a contract with the government, independent pharmacists “presumed they had the staffing because we’re right on the eve” of the first vaccine being available and administered, Hoey said.
At Walgreens, about 8,000 to 9,000 open positions are for roles supporting Covid testing, vaccine administration and other needs — out of 25,000 in total, according to the company. Many of the new hires will free up current experienced pharmacists to administer the vaccine at long-term care facilities, the Deerfield, Illinois-based company said by email. Walgreens offers its employees $500 for referrals and sign-on bonuses ranging from $500 to $30,000 for eligible pharmacists and technicians.
CVS spokesman T.J. Crawford said in an email that “anyone claiming that we’re understaffed has zero visibility into our operations, and is looking to create an issue where there isn’t one.” He said the company is hiring pharmacists in certain areas based on the amount of long-term care facilities where CVS will administer Covid-19 vaccines.
CVS representatives are passing out flyers and leaving business cards in competing pharmacies, according to a scanned copy of one example shared with Bloomberg News. They are also sharing job opportunities online, with one post on pharmacist.com indicating the company is “falling short” of the staffing needed in Arizona.
Lindsey Ludwig, executive director of CPESN Iowa, a network of more than 100 pharmacies across the state, says her members are reporting various types of outreach from the chains. “It’s been everything,” she said.
CVS sent customers an email Sunday with the subject, “We Need You to Help End the Pandemic.” The message says the company is committed to administering millions of Covid-19 vaccines next year.
“To do that, we need thousands of pharmacists, nurses and pharmacy technicians and more from across the United States,” the email reads.
A message on CVS’s career page encourages visitors to “join our Covid-19 vaccination support team.” As of Tuesday afternoon, CVS was advertising more than 1,100 pharmacist and technician positions. CVS, based in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, in October announced it had planned to hire about 10,000 pharmacy technicians to help administer vaccines.
Crawford said CVS boasts an army of health-care professionals and “ensuring we maintain the appropriate staffing levels going forward is what any responsible company would do.” Crawford didn’t respond to specific questions, including how many existing employees have volunteered to participate, how much money the company is offering for referrals and new hires, and what prompted the customer-wide email calling for help.
In Iowa, Cheri Schmit, director of clinical pharmacy at local pharmacy owner GRX Holdings, said a CVS representative tried recruiting employees directly from some of its locations earlier this month. GRX Holdings owns 22 pharmacies in the state, which are part of CPESN’S network.
This frustrated Schmit because independent pharmacies have largely been excluded from the federal initiative to vaccinate long-term care facilities. She and Ludwig say CPESN has offered to contract with CVS and Walgreens to provide workers and so far has not struck any deals.
“We are still trying to work with them,” Schmit said, adding the most important piece is ensuring people receive their vaccines.