Community Impact

Walgreens' first COVID-19 vaccine, one year later

Pharmacist and store manager Kate Latta reflects on the year since she gave the first shot, and what might be ahead.
Elyse Russo, Walgreens Stories
Dec. 18, 2020, is a day Kate Latta will remember for the rest of her life. A pharmacist in Columbus, Ohio, Latta was asked to administer Walgreens’ first COVID-19 vaccine.

“I remember preparing the first vial and my hands were shaking,” she says. “It was a lot of pressure. We knew we were doing something important and we just wanted to get it right.”

Latta went on to give Walgreens’ first shot to long-term care facility resident Rebecca Meeker, who was one of about 70 patients and staff members to receive vaccines that day.

In the year since that first vaccination, Walgreens has administered more than 52 million COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, Walgreens and COVID-19 vaccines have become so synonymous that “Walgreens COVID vaccine” was one of the top 10 Google search queries related to health in 2021, according to Google’s annual Year in Search report released Dec. 8.

“If it weren’t for retail pharmacists, where would we be right now?” Latta says. “I don’t think we’d be as far along as we are in this pandemic. Where would people have gone for their vaccines?”

Latta, who is also a store manager at a Walgreens near Columbus, takes a look back at the year since she administered that first shot and shares a few predictions for what might be in store for 2022.

What do you remember about the day you administered the first COVID-19 vaccine? 

Kate Latta:
It was definitely a blur. At the time, I don’t think anybody realized what we were getting ourselves into because everything happened so fast. We had about a day and a half to prepare and we were so nervous—you didn’t want to mess up, you didn’t want to waste anything. In that moment, every little thing we were doing, it was the first time for us. Looking back, it's amazing what the whole team was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. 

What’s strange is that COVID vaccines are now just an everyday thing. That’s not to say administering the vaccine isn’t a big deal, but it’s become like second nature and is just part of our daily lives now in the pharmacy.

Walgreens COVID-19 vaccination team
From left: Pharmacist and store manager Kate Latta, pharmacists Emily Wattenschaidt, Deanna Goodwin and Kokeb Abdulejelil, and pharmacy intern Lucy Wentworth were part of the team that administered Walgreens' first COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 18, 2020.

2021 has been a difficult year for many. What were some moments this year that brought you joy or hope?

Latta: It was a major moment when we learned that the Pfizer vaccine could be administered to children ages 12 and up. And then again when the age dropped down to 5 years old a month ago. These milestones are a reset for the pharmacists—it reminds us that we’re making progress . When my 8-year-old nephew got his vaccination, he told my sister, “Mommy, we’ve been waiting a long time for this, haven't we?” It’s like, wow, even he can recognize that kids and parents have been waiting a year for this. Moments like these help us take a step back and think about all we've accomplished. I think most pharmacists are really proud of what they've done.

What do you think is in store for retail pharmacists and the pandemic fight in 2022? 

Latta: It’s hard to say, but I truly hope next year we’ll be able to get the flu and COVID-19 vaccine all in one shot. The one thing I do know is that the pandemic has changed the pharmacy profession forever, in terms of what we’re able to do as healthcare professionals. COVID might go away, but I think we’ll start testing for flu and for strep —we’ve never been able to do that sort of thing in the past and get reimbursed by insurance providers for it.

I think how communities view their local pharmacists is changing, too. People are really seeing the connection we have with our patients and all we’ve done for them in the past year. Our communities are recognizing what we’re capable of—pharmacists are superheroes.

Watch the moments leading up to the first Walgreens COVID-19 vaccine administered by Latta one year ago: