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COVID-19 vaccine rollout in retail stores and pharmacies begins

(The exterior of the Smith's Marketplace on 455 South 500 East. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – People who are having a hard time getting their COVID-19 vaccine through their local health departments have another option. Retailers like Smith’s, Walmart and Sam’s Club have started giving vaccines to their customers. 

Vaccinations at Smith’s began Thursday, and the first person in line at the pharmacy on 400 South was Catherine London. Someone was supposed to visit the independent living center where she lives to distribute the vaccine, but that didn’t work out. 

London was able to book an appointment the night before, and she has big plans for when the pandemic ends.

“I think we’ll be going to the first performance of Ballet West. We’re on the guild, and we miss it terribly,” London said.

Officials with Smith’s say this is a huge rollout and they’re honored to be a part of it. However, they do expect to see a bit of a learning curve as they find ways to make the process run more efficiently. Luckily, they’re able to take what they’ve learned from vaccine rollouts in other states and apply it in Utah.

Smith’s Pharmacy Director Jaime Montourao reported, “In other parts of our company, in Alaska, we’ve been vaccinating since December.”

Only 40 of Smith’s pharmacies are administering the COVID-19 vaccine, for now in Utah. Montourao said their parent company, Kroger, divides the doses they receive and they try to focus on rural areas where there aren’t as many health care resources.

However, it is uncertain exactly how many doses they will have in any given week.

“The good news is that we will be getting weekly allocations. We just don’t know how large they will be. Hopefully, it’s a growing number so we can get vaccines on a weekly basis into every location,” Montourao said.  “Just like with COVID constantly throwing curveballs, the vaccine distribution process is something where things change regularly.”

Montourao said anyone over the age of 70 is allowed to register for the vaccine, however, the pharmacists behind the counters will not be able to arrange appointments.  Anyone who wants to sign up has to go through Smith’s website.  She recommended that people check in frequently for an appointment.