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Using Wawa locations as vaccination sites is not in the cards right now, health officials and company representatives tell Billy Penn, although neither ruled it out.
“It certainly sounds like a good match, but we’re not anticipating using Wawa as vaccination distribution points at this time,” said Philly Health Department spokesperson James Garrow.
The idea to administer vaccines at the popular convenience store chain began circulating in the region last week with an op-ed from Amy Z. Quinn, audience editor at NJ.com.
“[President] Biden is directing states to make all adults eligible for vaccination by May 1, and flooding the zone with shots: Community health centers, retail pharmacies in places like Walmart, even Dollar General stores could soon be vaccine sites,” she wrote. “Clearly, this is Wawa’s moment to shine.”
On social media, Quinn’s epiphany took off — and garnered a response from Wawa’s “Lead Goose,” aka CEO Chris Gheysens.
When Billy Penn asked if Gheysens had perhaps discussed the possibility with Health Commissioner Tom Farley, the CEO replied in the affirmative. “City and state officials,” he said, “are aware Wawa stands ready to help in any way.”
Gheysens’ pledge is backed up by action. The company, which now has stores in seven states, has been offering free food to volunteers at vaccination sites, and has also begun disseminating vaccine information in conjunction with health leaders, according to Wawa spokesperson Lori Bruce.
“We have been working with local contacts across the counties we serve and in some cases, at the state level, to offer our support of their efforts in various ways,” Bruce said.
Support has not yet included giving the actual jab.
Using Wawas as vaccination sites has general appeal because in many ways, it appears to be a great fit.
Most residents in the Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey region can easily get to a Wawa. Staff is used to handling long lines of people on a daily basis. The stores are all equipped with order tracking systems, and there’s plenty of cold storage, all things necessary for vaccine delivery.
Health Commissioner Farley said last week that while Biden allowing dentists and veterinarians to administer vaccine is a positive, being a licensed professional is not enough — you need an organization that can manage the flow. Is that not Wawa?
“While they demonstrate some of the skills needed to do this type of work, there are many details that work against this type of partnership,” said Garrow, the Health Department spokesperson.
Those details include, the fact that transferring personal health information needs to be very secure, and is not the same as food order information. Plus, he said, vaccines cannot be stored in food cold storage, so the shops would need to cordon off cold space. Many independent pharmacies that have applied to be vaccine providers still aren’t certified, Garrow noted, because the process isn’t simple.
“We certainly appreciate Wawa’s ongoing willingness to support the city’s efforts,” he said.
Wawa spokesperson Bruce echoed the sentiment: ” We will continue to offer our help and support in various ways.”