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Our new podcast, "There's a Better Way: Smart Talk on Healthcare and Technology,” shares the perspectives of healthcare’s most innovative leaders. In our first episode, host and Surescripts Chief Marketing Officer Melanie Marcus welcomes Tasha Polster of Walgreens.

“America wouldn’t be where it is today without retail pharmacy,” says Tasha Polster, Vice President for Pharmacy Quality, Compliance and Patient Safety at Walgreens. “Two-thirds of every vaccine that was given during this pandemic was out of a retail pharmacy outlet.”

You’d be tempted to assume this is just what Polster would say, given that she has spent years working in retail pharmacy—and for Walgreens, one of the biggest retail pharmacies in the nation.

But there is data backing up Polster’s statement. And the data speaks for itself: As of March 2022, Walgreens had administered 60 million vaccines and 26 million tests for COVID-19. This speaks to the power and reach of retail pharmacy operating at scale.

Yet, Polster doesn’t say retail pharmacy is the only important player—not by a long shot, and certainly not in a pandemic, which she describes as a “nightmare” when it first began in 2020. “Is it okay to use the word nightmare?” she asks. “Because that’s what it was.”

The Nightmare—and the Silver Lining

Like everyone else, Polster wasn’t immune to the impact of COVID-19. Her aging parents were back home in Colorado. “We couldn't check on them,” she says. “Being so far away. That part was really hard.” As for her work at Walgreens, it’s no easy feat to disseminate changes to 9,000 Walgreens locations—by tomorrow morning—in response to evolving COVID-19 safety procedures and vaccine policies.

“We still have this challenge today as we manage spikes of COVID,” Polster says. But then, as now, Polster and the Walgreens team faced the challenge head on. “Our employees were at the ready to stand up and help.”

Polster says that when she first went into pharmacy, they weren’t doing immunizations of any kind. There wasn’t even the technology in place to make that happen, as Marcus says of the pandemic’s silver lining: the push to really think about what the future holds for pharmacy, and the pharmacist’s expanding role and value.

“There were many, many partners across the industry on this,” Polster says of pharmacy’s COVID-19 response. “It didn't matter if you were a grocery store chain pharmacy, a small independent pharmacy, or a big retail chain like Walgreens. We were all working together.”

That’s how the industry will respond to the next pandemic, too: by working together. For now, Polster can look back on the time she led one of the biggest vaccine coordination campaigns in history.

Listen to the first episode of our new podcast, "There's a Better Way: Smart Talk on Healthcare and Technology,” and subscribe on your favorite streaming platform to catch future episodes.

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