KEY POINTS

  • Kroger says its ready to get COVID-19 vaccine to the public
  • Supply chain will be a problem, but we’re ready, CEO says
  • Health care workers may be among the first to get vaccinated

The head of U.S. grocery retailer Kroger said his company was “ready and anxious” to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine once it’s available to the public.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, along with drugmaker Moderna, are pursuing emergency-use authorization in the U.S. for their vaccines, with at least one of the drugs possibly rolling out as early as the end of the year.

Kroger is one of many major national chains to partner with the Department of Health and Human Services to make the vaccines readily available to the public.  Albertsons, Costco, CVS, and Walgreens also are partners in the HHS program.

Appearing on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” segment on Thursday, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said the company was ready to assist in getting the vaccine to the public.

“Obviously, we’re going to partner with the federal government in terms of priority, which health care workers will be the first priority,” he said. “But we’re ready and anxious to get started.”

A panel of advisors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities get the vaccine first. Next would be those with pre-existing health conditions that may leave them vulnerable to dangerous COVID-19 symptoms, along with first responders.

The vaccine rollout could be complicated by storage requirements. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored at a staggering minus-97 degrees Fahrenheit, while Moderna’s needs a storage temperature of only negative-2 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale.

The logistics of delivering millions of the two-dose vaccines are daunting, though McMullen expressed optimism that those along the various stages of the supply chain could come together to make it work.

“Is it easy? No,” he said, “but we’re going to be fine, and the whole supply chain will work together to make sure that people across the U.S. are getting the vaccines they need to, and making sure the temperatures are maintained.”

Moderna announced Thursday it expected to have at least 85 million doses available on the U.S. market by the first quarter of 2021. Subject to manufacturing capacity and regulatory approval, Pfizer and BioNTech said they could have up to 50 million vaccines available globally this year

Kroger The Kroger Co. corporate headquarters is pictured on July 15, 2008 in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Kroger announced on Thursday announced its plan to use self-driving cars to deliver groceries to customers. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images