Ed Kaleta, a 1995 political science and leadership studies grad

Alum leads Walgreens' nationwide COVID-19 vaccine rollout

March 26, 2021


Just as life was put on hold last year, one alum’s responsibilities escalated, putting him at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. Ed Kaleta, a 1995 political science and leadership studies grad, heads up federal lobbying and public policy activities for Walgreens, where he most recently led efforts to open testing sites and administer vaccinations.

Because of their prior experience operating large-scale flu clinics, pharmacy giants Walgreens and CVS had the capacity to play a major role in COVID-19 testing and vaccination rollouts, Kaleta said. Recently, he sat down virtually with Jepson School Dean Sandra Peart to discuss his work during the crisis.

“Walgreens has administered 4.8 million COVID tests to-date,” Kaleta said in early March, “and is currently playing a pivotal role in the government’s efforts to vaccinate a nation in the midst of this crisis like none we’ve ever seen.” The company said it’s receiving 1 million doses a week of the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer vaccines as part of a federal program, in coordination with the CDC.

In March 2020, Kaleta got a phone call from the Department of Health and Human Services asking if Walgreens could conduct COVID-19 tests around the country. He began by visiting an improvised drive-through testing site in a parking lot and thinking about how to replicate the process.

Another call came several months later. Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership charged with developing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines, requested Walgreens’ help in administering vaccinations. The company agreed.

“If you peel away the political layers, what you have is a lot of folks trying to make a difference in short order,” Kaleta said. “It’s been a wild ride. This has taken on monumental proportions for all of us. It’s not just opening another drugstore. You are doing something that is so important for the entire country.”

Kaleta described challenges associated with the testing and vaccination rollouts, including legislative and regulatory hurdles, as well as purchasing hundreds of special refrigerators because the Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage.

The company faced additional challenges getting the vaccines to vulnerable populations. Ensuring that mass testing sites were close to public transportation and in medically underserved areas was a focus, Kaleta said, as well as alleviating people’s hesitancy to get vaccinated.

“You are going to be more trusting if people you know get the shot,” he said. “We are working on addressing that, and we also have a partnership with Uber to provide 10 million free rides to a pharmacy.”

Despite the intensity of the last year and a lot of missed time with his family, Kaleta said he appreciates the opportunity to do something important.

 “I am fortunate to be able to utilize skills from UR and the leadership school,” he said, “and over the last 12 months to work with incredible individuals on my team and the rest of the company to respond to the pandemic.”


Jepson School alumnus Ed Kaleta talks to Dean Peart about his role in helping to lead the rollout of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations