As the United States undergoes a slower than anticipated rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, Walmart is prepared for when supply can meet demand, asserting that it's in a unique position to better administer vaccinations.
The retailer plans to offer the vaccine seven days a week at its pharmacies, through planned in-store vaccination clinics and large community events. It has been preparing by:
- Training thousands of pharmacists and pharmacy techs
- Building a new digital scheduling tool to make appointments easy
- Partnering with state and federal agencies as it awaits allocations — Walmart is a federal pharmacy partner and can accept federal allocation of doses in all of its pharmacies
“At full capacity, we expect we will be able to deliver 10 million-13 million doses per month when supply and allocations allow,” said Dr. Cheryl Pegus, EVP for health and wellness at Walmart.
Combine the more than 5,000 Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies in the United States and Puerto Rico with the 150 million people passing through the banners' doors each week, and that estimation may not be far off the mark.
“With 90% of the American population living within 10 miles of a Walmart, we will play an important part in making sure those who want a vaccine can get one when they are eligible, based on their state’s prioritization, especially those in hard-to-reach parts of the country that have recently been hit hard by the epidemic,” said Dr. Tom Van Gilder, chief medical officer at Walmart.
Pegus mentioned that there are key areas where the retailer stands ready to ensure that all Americans have access to the vaccine, including the following:
- Nearly 4,000 Walmart locations are positioned within one or more “health care deserts,” federally designated medically underserved areas, or places where there are limited pharmacy options.
- Walmart has the reach and the qualified, trained pharmacists and pharmacy staff to partner with community organizations to provide vaccination services at third-party locations like churches, stadiums and youth centers.
Walmart said in December that it has started ensuring it had freezers in all of its pharmacies, as well as dry ice to handle storage requirements. It has also entered into agreements with states to be able to support vaccinations where needed, such as in long-term care facilities.
The retailer started administering the Moderna vaccine last month to health care workers at select Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs in New Mexico. The first Walmart pharmacist to receive a vaccine was Pharmacy Clinical Service Manager Alexis Abbatantuono, a 13-year associate.
“We’re educating essential workers and all associates on getting the vaccine as soon as they are eligible,” said Pegus. “We are strongly encouraging all associates to get vaccinated, but are not mandating anyone receive the vaccine, nor are we providing incentives at this time.”
Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart operates more than 11,300 stores under 56 banners in 27 countries, and e-commerce websites, employing 2.2 million-plus associates worldwide. Walmart U.S. is No. 1 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer's list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America, while Walmart-owned Sam's Club ranks No. 9 on the list.