DEERFIELD, Ill. — Anita Patel joined Walgreens last May as vice president of pharmacy services development, a new position. In this role, she is responsible for prioritizing improvements within Walgreens’ existing pharmacy services as well as identifying and prioritizing new opportunities for growth and innovation. She also exercises oversight of the company’s COVID-19 strategy and execution, including vaccines, data and analytics, and testing.
That responsibility is a natural evolution for Patel, who led the COVID-19 response and vaccine distribution at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from January 2020 to July 2021. Patel joined the CDC in 2004 as a health scientist for the division of strategic national stockpile. Prior to that she had been a post-doctoral fellow at Roche Pharmaceuticals and the Food and Drug Administration for two years. She earned a Pharm.D. degree at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and a masters degree in biosecurity and disaster preparedness at Saint Louis University.
Throughout her career Patel has dedicated herself to developing and executing strategies to prevent and respond to major population health challenges. At the CDC, she used learnings from seasonal influenza to help prepare for potential pandemic outbreaks.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, I was grateful to be able to utilize my experience to lead the CDC charge in the largest-ever pandemic response and vaccine distribution effort by the federal government,” she said in a recent interview. “To lead this effort, I worked cross-functionally with private and public partners to understand the diverse needs of local communities to implement sustainable countermeasures, ensure access to protective equipment and develop educational resources and programs.”
Patel added that it is her personal commitment to providing fundamental health care services, such as vaccines, to all communities that prompted her to join Walgreens in her present role overseeing Walgreens’ COVID-19 strategy and execution. It is a source of pride, she said, that the company has administered 80 million vaccines and more than 35 million COVID-19 tests since the onset of the pandemic.
In addition to transforming public perception of the potential role of pharmacy in combating a health care crisis such as COVID-19, the pandemic furnished a host of learnings and insights about testing, vaccination and treatment. With its base of 9,000 retail pharmacies, Walgreens was able to identify disparities in underserved communities where pharmacist education could make a difference.
Those insights spurred Walgreens to develop several initiatives to tackle barriers to care, including the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Initiative and Phase Two of the Chicago Health Equity pilot, which required the drug store chain to leverage its extensive and nuanced understanding of local communities.
Through the first initiative, Walgreens administered about 40 million vaccinations in socially vulnerable areas, while the Chicago Health Equity pilot used data to identify health issues in specific communities where pharmacist intervention would be of paramount importance, and then developed targeted screening and intervention methods.
“We embraced the opportunity to pave the way for the future of pharmacy services and begin implementing changes we knew were necessary to get there,” Patel said.