Walgreens on Monday said it planned to change the COVID vaccine scheduler on its website following complaints that the pharmacy wasn't adhering to federal health officials' recommended timeline for some second doses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the two doses for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be spaced three weeks, or 21 days, apart. That timeframe is shorter than the recommended space between the two doses of Moderna's vaccine, which is 28 days or one month.
The CDC says the second doses of both "should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible, but not earlier than recommended" and that if a delay in the second dose is "unavoidable," either can be administered up to six weeks after the first, though limited data is available on the efficacy of the vaccines beyond that window.
Through the online vaccine scheduler on its website, Walgreens has been automatically scheduling patients' second doses for 28 days after their first dose since it began vaccinations in December. That timeframe is in line with the CDC's recommendations on the Moderna vaccine but is longer than that of the Pfizer vaccine.
That delay had prompted complaints from some individuals who've gotten the Pfizer vaccine through Walgreens but were not allowed to get their doses at the recommended interval.
The New York Times reported Monday that the CDC had asked Walgreens to stop using that longer timeframe between the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, according to a spokeswoman for the agency.
That same day, Walgreens said it planned to update its website by the end of the week to allow users to schedule a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine within three weeks.
"In many states, our stores carry COVID-19 vaccines from multiple manufacturers simultaneously, as determined by federal and state allocation," Walgreens said in a statement. "We are automatically scheduling patients’ second doses to occur a minimum of 28 days following their first dose to ensure that no dose is administered earlier than the authorized intervals and patients are able to complete the series vaccination."
"We’re continuing to work on system enhancements to our scheduler to account for multiple manufacturers with different dose #2 schedules to automatically account for scheduling patients’ second dose either at day 21 or day 28," the statement continued. "We plan to have an enhancement to our vaccine scheduler by the end of this week that will now allow individuals to schedule within three week timeframe for the second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine."
Walgreens noted that individuals have the option to reschedule their second dose appointment on the pharmacy's website or work with their local Walgreens location to reschedule for an earlier date based on appointment availability.
Walgreens has faced scrutiny over issues with its scheduling process on multiple occasions since it began vaccinations in December. The company apologized last month for a "technical glitch" with its website that booked second-dose vaccination appointments for several users without also booking the preceding first doses.
"A technical glitch allowed patients in select stores to book appointments for second dose time slots without also booking their first dose. This issue has been resolved," a representative for Walgreens said in a statement on March 18.
"We are committed to honoring vaccination appointments that have been scheduled in our system, and our team members are reaching out to all patients affected to attempt to accommodate them," the company continued. "If supply does not allow us to vaccinate some of these patients, we will prioritize them for appointments as additional vaccine inventory is available. We apologize for the inconvenience."
The company did not respond to multiple requests on how many people the glitch impacted, though hundreds of members of the "Chicago Vaccine Hunters" Facebook group posted and commented that they were experiencing the issue, calling it "a mess" and "so frustrating."
That incident marked the third time in as many weeks that the company acknowledged issues with its online appointment scheduler. The company had previously apologized for "delays or failures" some were experiencing with the website.
In early March, both Walgreens and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker acknowledged that the pharmacy chain was experiencing problems with its vaccine sign-up, as the company's website showed no availability or would not allow patients to book available first-dose appointments, frustrating eligible Illinois residents seeking to get their shots.
Neither Pritzker's office, the Illinois Department of Public Health, nor Walgreens have responded to repeated requests for information on how many of the state's allotted doses go to Walgreens. But with 517 Walgreens administering vaccinations across the state, per the IDPH website, the company has far and away the most locations of all vaccine providers in Illinois, with Jewel-Osco ranking second at 143 locations.
Walgreens' Twitter account dedicated to responding to customer complaints tweeted in response to dozens of people in recent weeks, "As demand for vaccinations continues to be high, we are experiencing temporary outages on our vaccine scheduler."
Walgreens said that in addition to its online scheduler, appointments can be booked by calling 1-800-Walgreens (1-800-925-4733) or they can be made in stores or by calling a local Walgreens individually.
For a complete look at where and how you can make an appointment in Illinois or where you can receive vaccine information for your area, click here.