Pharmacies Are Staffed Up for COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 1, 2021
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covid-19 vaccination

​Retail pharmacies will play a vital role in administering COVID-19 vaccines this year, and CVS Health—the largest pharmacy chain in the U.S., with nearly 10,000 locations—has already done the hiring necessary to put shots in arms.

The company's army of vaccinators, including nearly 30,000 pharmacists and 60,000 pharmacy technicians, are prepared to meet the goal of providing the vaccine at all retail locations as the supply becomes available in the future, said Jeff Lackey, vice president of talent acquisition at CVS Health. "We have enough qualified people now and are prepared to administer 20 to 25 million vaccinations a month," he said.

Earlier this month, CVS began offering COVID-19 vaccinations to eligible people at select retail locations across 17 states. The company expects to expand to additional states while increasing the number of stores offering the shots. CVS has already deployed staff to provide COVID-19 vaccinations at 40,000 long-term-care facilities and nursing homes, an initiative expected to wrap up this spring.

And even though the company is fully staffed to meet the expanding vaccination mandate, recruiting to maintain appropriate staffing levels is ongoing "because we have to reinforce our bench," Lackey said.

CVS currently has 3,300 active open jobs for pharmacy technicians—who assist the pharmacists—and 250 open jobs for pharmacists, as well as other health care positions on a special COVID-19-related careers page.

CVS is just one of the pharmacies and grocery stores partnering with the federal government to provide vaccination sites. Walgreens, with 9,000 pharmacy locations, has also been staffing up since last year and started its vaccination program in several states and territories earlier this month. The company employs about 75,000 pharmacists and technicians and expects that all retail locations will offer the vaccine in the future.

Trusted Health Care Partners

The role of retail pharmacies like CVS during the pandemic—from providing essential services since the crisis first unfolded, to providing testing and vaccinations—has been extraordinary.

From a talent acquisition perspective, that meant ramping up hiring as many other companies froze hiring or shed jobs. "There was a lot of fear and uncertainty early on, but our team was certain about being a part of the solution," Lackey said. "We serve underrepresented communities where many people don't have a primary care physician. They use CVS clinics and pharmacies as trusted health care providers. So we knew we had to stay open and staff up."

In the spring of 2020, the company embarked on the largest hiring spree in its history, recruiting 50,000 people in order to remain fully staffed during the pandemic. CVS was also one of the essential employers that partnered with companies in hard-hit industries, offering jobs to thousands of people who had been indefinitely furloughed or laid off.

Lackey said they continued to hire as COVID-19 testing got underway. "We opened up 4,000 testing sites across the nation—in parking lots and stores—and deployed our staff to other testing facilities," he said. "Then we ran into flu season and hired another 15,000 people, mostly pharmacy techs. We went from normally providing about 10 million flu shots to 20 million in 2020."

Pharmacy Techs Fill an Urgent Need

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in October 2020 authorized trained pharmacy technicians to administer COVID-19 vaccines under the supervision of an immunization-certified pharmacist.

It can't be overstated how important pharmacy technicians are to scale distribution of a vaccine and extend the capacity of the health care workforce to address the pandemic, Lackey said.

"Up until that point, techs had not been certified on COVID-19 vaccines, which obviously hadn't existed before."

CVS provided the training to job seekers interested in the role. "Pharmacy techs are one of the best entry points to a health care career," he said.

Working under the direct supervision of a licensed pharmacist, pharmacy technicians often serve as the first point of contact for customers, process prescriptions, dispense medications, provide information and perform administrative tasks.

"The work is not easy," Lackey said. "These are the people who make everything run better. And they've been vital to administering COVID-19 tests."

And some are now prepping for administering vaccinations, alongside nurses and pharmacists. "We have so many people on staff who are either trained or trainable to do this work if needed," Lackey said. "We're mobilizing our entire workforce to deal with this pandemic."

But recruiting for vaccine response roles goes on. "We have deployed all of our assets to attract and recruit for these roles," Lackey said. In addition to the special COVID-19 careers portal, the talent acquisition team has stepped up outreach through its candidate relationship management system.

"We have over 7 million people in there and are doing outreach to all of them," Lackey said. "We also streamlined the hiring process, getting rid of anything that had a hint of 'extra.' In some cases, we even eliminated job interviews, using a pre-employment virtual job tryout assessment instead. It can now take a day or two from application-to-hire, and only a few days from application-to-onboarding."

Third-Party Providers

Amid unprecedented demand at COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, health care employers are leaning into staffing firms and on-demand talent marketplaces as well. 

CVS runs a contingent workforce program that recruits temporary pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and nurses to support their COVID-19 vaccine teams.

"We didn't want to turn off any sources of talent," Lackey said. "We're interested in temporary workers and people who may already have a full-time job but who want to pick up a few hours to help out."

Hiring for testing and vaccination roles has exploded since late last year at San Francisco-based health care staffing firm Clipboard Health. "We have been so busy," said Colleen Garrett, SHRM-CP, one of five recruiters on the team. Over 300 positions for testing and vaccinations have been filled since January, and Garrett said she sees that pace increasing in the coming months.

Clipboard Health provides nurses, medical assistants, phlebotomists, site leads and vaccination technicians to health care employers across the country. The company uses an on-demand staffing app that vets applicants and matches them to health care jobs for full-time work, part-time work, projects and shifts.

"Thousands of candidates are already onboarded through the app," Garrett said. She added that she's able to source candidates through the app, which is helpful when people are needed immediately, but that she spends most of her time sourcing traditionally.

"We post ads on traditional job boards and have started to develop relationships with local technical colleges and workforce development organizations," she said, "trying to reach all the touchpoints for these candidates."

Garrett said that a mix of recruitment channels is particularly important for a market that is equal parts strained and growing. "Cutting through the noise and connecting to as many health care professionals as possible is key to reaching this demographic and workforce effectively," she said.

Global professional networking site LinkedIn is assisting with hiring at vaccination sites, too.

"We are using our platform to connect health care professionals to vaccination volunteer and paid support opportunities," said Tomer Cohen, chief product officer at LinkedIn. "Health care organizations, pharmacies and governments that have hiring needs in direct support of vaccine distribution can post jobs for free on LinkedIn through May 15. These jobs include registered nurses, medical assistants and pharmacy technicians, and members will discover these jobs through push notifications, real-time alerts, in the LinkedIn feed and in job search."

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