Walmart Inc. says it is taking steps to offer large-scale COVID-19 vaccinations at its pharmacies.
The retailer, which runs more than 5,000 pharmacies around the country, said Friday it is training pharmacists and technicians and coordinating with government agencies. Walmart is not requiring its workers to receive the vaccine, nor is it providing incentives for them to do so, beyond “strongly encouraging them” to get the shots, according to the company.
The move comes amid sluggish vaccine distribution so far in the U.S., with just roughly 19.1 million doses administered so far, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“As we look to a future when supply can meet demand and more people are eligible to receive the vaccine, we plan to offer the vaccine seven days a week at our pharmacies, through planned in-store vaccination clinics and through large community events,” Cheryl Pegus, Walmart’s executive vice president of Health and Wellness, said in a post Friday.
“With 150 million people passing through our doors each week, we’re in a unique position to reach people where they already shop,” she wrote.
As President Joe Biden has promised to pick up the pace to 100 million doses administered in the first 100 days of his presidency, the administration is expected to pursue public-private partnerships as a path to hitting those targets. Walmart said that as a “federal pharmacy partner,” it would be able to bring on “federally allocated” vaccine doses at its pharmacies, including thousands located in “federally designated medically underserved areas.”
There are some 25 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and some 412,780 deaths from the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally.
Walmart’s move echoes a similar message by Amazon’s worldwide consumer chief Dave Clark, who wrote to Biden on Wednesday offering to pitch in with vaccine distribution and seeking to prioritize vaccinations for its 800,000 employees. Amazon employees have been working in its warehouses through much of the pandemic without additional hazard pay after a temporary $2-an-hour increase expired last summer. Amazon said in October that some 20,000 of its employees tested positive for COVID-19.
In the letter to Biden Wednesday, Clark said the company has an agreement with a “licensed third-party occupational health care provider” to vaccinate employees at its facilities.
“We are prepared to move quickly once vaccines are available,” he wrote. “Additionally, we are prepared to leverage our operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration’s vaccination efforts.”
Observers in the medical community said ramping up vaccinations will require efficient coordination of logistics and widespread availability.
“We really need all the help we can get in terms of the vaccine rollout, because things have been slower than forecast,” said Franklin Miller, professor of medical ethics in medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.
“As long as you have companies who have some competence to administer shots, it seems to make sense,” he said. “Of course, the government has the responsibility to make sure the businesses they’re entrusting to help out are competent.”