Tips for quickly mobilizing the retail frontline to administer coronavirus vaccines

In 2020 the use of the word “pandemic” increased by more than 57,000%. The same may end up being true for the word “vaccine” in 2021. It seems to be on everyone’s lips these days—on the news, in Twitter feeds, and woven through conversations with family, coworkers and friends. Of course, efficiently vaccinating millions of citizens poses a huge logistical challenge for governments everywhere. So it’s no wonder that the authorities are reaching beyond the traditional frontline healthcare worker and into pharmacies in order to get more people vaccinated sooner.

This isn’t an entirely new concept. Pharmacies have been administering traditional flu vaccines for quite a few years now. What’s different with the COVID-19 vaccine program is the sheer volume and urgency driving it. To put it in perspective, the US set a 175 million dose record during the 2019–20 flu season. To battle coronavirus, the nation has ordered 600 million dosesenough to fully inject 300 million Americans with the two-dose regimen. And with impatience among pandemic-weary citizens growing every day, it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation to get people vaccinated.

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Retailers to the rescue

Enter retail giants like Kroger, Albertsons, Walgreens, HEB, CVS and Walgreens who are partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help administer coronavirus vaccines through their pharmacies. In order to do so efficiently and safely, they find themselves ramping up with additional “vaccine staff” to support the effort. 

Of course, there’s a lot more to this effort than simply onboarding new hires to confidently and competently administer vaccines to the public. Demand for the vaccine will undoubtedly increase traffic in stores, which affects not just the pharmacy staff giving the shots, but all frontline staff in the store. From the front door greeters and checkout associates, to shelf stockers and those answering the phone, the entire frontline will inevitably be fielding logistical questions about their vaccine clinics for the next little while.  

A daily dose of support

So, how do you effectively mobilize your frontline teams to do things that are out of their everyday wheelhouse? And how do you make sure they remember the most critical information to keep everyone safe and your stores running smoothly? Here are a few tips to keep top of mind: 

  • Onboard smarter – Bringing thousands of new hires up to speed is no easy feat. And when you need them to start performing quickly to handle a surge in demand there’s no time for a traditional onboarding experience that firehoses them with information they can’t possibly remember. Instead, onboarding should focus on just the must-have information they need to get ready to contribute in their roles quickly. Then the nice-to-have stuff can be fed to them through small bites of ongoing training once they are in the operation.
  • Communicate frequently – As safety protocols and logistical realities around the vaccine program evolve, you’re going to need an efficient way to keep your entire frontline on the same page, no matter how fast things change. And old-school methods like bulletin board postings and team huddles aren’t going to cut it. Effective frontline communication requires a balance of push and pull. Pushing the most important messages directly to employees, ideally right on devices they already use in the flow of work, will get everyone the same information in real time. Then you can make this information, along with less critical messages, available to employees on-demand via a knowledge hub or company intranet.
  • Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce – People forget what isn’t reinforced. It’s just the way our brains work. So if you want to make sure your people have the knowledge they need to make the right decisions in the moments that matter, you have to keep reminding them of the right things to do. This is especially important during times of disruption where the operation is rapidly changing and employees have to keep adapting to new ways of doing their work.
  • Stay in compliance – The vaccine program isn’t just high stakes because of the protection it will provide. It also requires those administering the vaccines to properly protect patient privacy and security. Keeping everyone in compliance demands more than just a one-time training event. Yes, you still need to check the boxes. But you also need to mitigate real risks to your business and help employees make real-world decisions that will keep them and your customers safe. If you can serve up your compliance training in the same platform where your people already do their daily training, you can feel confident that they’ll get it done. Bonus: when you have a quick daily training experience built into every shift, you can reinforce the key things they need to remember, keeping your frontline in the know, and your organization out of the hot seat when regulators come knocking.

At least 70% or 80% of the US population will need to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity. The mobilization of pharmacy frontline workers will certainly help to get there faster. By taking steps to educate and equip their entire frontline staff to support the smooth execution of the vaccination efforts, retailers will go down in history as playing an important role in helping society return to a new state of normal. 

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Jordan Dilworth has spent the majority of his marketing career working with some of the world’s leading brands and retail organizations across the apparel, footwear and beverage alcohol industries. Prior to Axonify, he was the head of North American Retail Marketing at Columbia Sportswear Company for 125 stores across the portfolio of brands and store formats. At Axonify, Jordan leads the Demand Marketing team with a focus on the Retail and Food & Beverage Industries.

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