Despite Whitmer's call for pharmacies to vaccinate anyone, many won't take walk-ins

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Retail chain CVS Health is offering COVID-19 vaccines at select locations in Michigan, but you have to make your appointment ahead of time. - CVS HEALTH
  • CVS Health
  • Retail chain CVS Health is offering COVID-19 vaccines at select locations in Michigan, but you have to make your appointment ahead of time.

Earlier this week, Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked COVID-19 vaccine providers to accommodate anyone who wants one as the virus surges in Michigan. Whitmer hopes to get 70% of Michigan residents vaccinated, or 5.6 million people, as soon as possible in order to achieve herd immunity. The state will expand vaccine eligibility to all people age 16 and up on April 5, while Mayor Mike Duggan expanded to 16 and up earlier this week.

"We are encouraging providers of the vaccine to fill every slot even if they don't have someone in the priority groups right now," Whitmer said in a recent interview with Crain's Detroit Business. "If it is someone (age) 16 and up and they've got a slot that's open, we're encouraging them to fill them. ... Because the quicker we can get to that 70 percent-plus (vaccinated) number, the better for every one of us."



But if you think that Whitmer's call means you can just stroll into your local pharmacy and ask for a vaccine, think again. Many retail pharmacies tell Metro Times they won't take walk-ins.

During this year's COVID-19 vaccination rollout, many pharmacy customers reported experiences of serendipitously being offered vaccines despite not being a member of prioritized vaccination groups, as the pharmacies found themselves with leftover, unused doses at the end of the day that would otherwise expire.



Many big-name pharmacy companies tell Metro Times that their corporate policy prevents them from vaccinating walk-ins, however. That doesn't mean the companies are wasting the leftovers, though. The companies say that they encourage patients to register online ahead of time in order to help them prioritize any extra doses.

A spokesperson for the Meijer chain of stores says the company encourages people to register ahead of time through its website clinic.meijer.com or by texting "COVID" to 75049.

"We require everyone who receives a vaccine at Meijer to register and we don’t have walk-up clinics," a spokesperson says in a statement. "We have registered more than 2,000,000 people to receive vaccines and have administered more than 500,000 vaccine doses. If we are conducting a clinic and determine we will have extra doses, we will contact people in our registration database and offer them an appointment. We use all the vaccine doses we have at every clinic."

A spokesperson from the chain CVS also says the company requires appointments made on CVS.com, its CVS mobile phone app, or by contacting CVS customer service.

"We follow all (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and manufacturer guidelines with regard to the proper storage and administration of each COVID-19 vaccine to help ensure that vaccine is not wasted," the company says in a statement. "Our online scheduling tool also helps to ensure that appointments are matched to the available vaccine supply. In the event of unused doses in our pharmacies, our pharmacy teams will evaluate how to most efficiently vaccinate eligible individuals with remaining doses."

Chris Savarese, a spokesman for Rite Aid pharmacies, says that there aren't really any unused doses because right now "demand is heavily outweighing supply."

In the event that the company believes it may have extra doses, Savarese says, "We do have a process in place, a list of customers per store that are eligible, and if we believe we may have extra doses we make phone calls down that list to get folks in for vaccines." People can register at riteaid.com/covid-19.

A spokesperson from the Kroger grocery store chain elaborates on why making an appointment ahead of time on its website is necessary. Providers are required to give patients a 15-minute period in case they have a rare adverse reaction to the vaccine.

"With the required 15 minute waiting period following the administration of the vaccine, this helps us properly space out appointments and prevent overcrowding as we are still operating under capacity limits in our MI stores," the spokesperson says.

Kroger says it plans to continue offering off-site vaccination clinics to reach communities where people may have limited access to phone or internet and can't easily make appointments. They also say the company does not waste extra doses.

"In the rare occurrence of a late-day cancellation or no-show appointment, we are utilizing in-store announcements and our own associate population to ensure those doses are administered without waste," they say.

However, they also add that the company may eventually allow for walk-ins.

"When more vaccine becomes available and we are not operating with the capacity limitations we may consider a 'walk-in' system which is being tested in other markets soon," they say.

Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Detroit's Ford Field has been turned into a large-scale regional vaccination site for southeastern Michigan, which opened to the public last week. The facility is set up to administer up to 6,000 shots a day, but initially it wasn't operating at capacity. A large number of people declined to show up for their appointments in its first days, causing officials putting out a frantic call for anyone who could make it by 6 p.m. to come on down and get vaccinated.

As of earlier this week, officials say walk-ins are still possible at Ford Field, but not recommended. Detroit’s TCF Center is allowing for walk-in vaccinations on April 5, expanding its capacity from 5,000 doses a day to 8,0000. All City residents are now eligible for a vaccine.

People can register for vaccinations at Ford Field through the website clinic.meijer.com/register/CL2021 or by calling the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 hotline at 888-535-6136 (and pressing 1). They can also text "ENDCOVID" to 75049.

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