• Retail Dive

Walmart looks to play role in COVID-19 vaccine rollout


Ben Unglesbee@Ben_Unglesbee


Dec. 11, 2020

Dive Brief:

  • Walmart is prepping its 5,000-plus pharmacies to receive doses of the COVID-19 vaccine once it is released in the U.S, according to a company post from the retailer's chief medical officer, Tom Van Gilder

  • The company is currently making agreements with states to "be able to support vaccinations where needed," Gilder said.

  • Walmart is working to make sure its pharmacies are fully stocked with freezers and dry ice, which are needed to store the vaccine. The retailer is also implementing processes to inform customers when to come in for their first and second doses.

Dive Insight:

While Walmart has long had pharmacies in its namesake and Sam's Club stores, the retailer in recent years has been expanding its medical offering. Last year, the company piloted its "Walmart Health center" concept in Georgia aimed at providing low-price health services for local customers.

The retailer expanded the healthcare concept this year and plans to bring it to Florida after adding clinics in Georgia and Arkansas. In September, Walmart said it planned to add seven more locations in Georgia, two in Chicago and seven in the Jacksonville market.

Those moves put Walmart into direct competition with CVS and Walgreens, which, like Walmart, can lean on extensive brick-and-mortar footprints to develop a convenient health offering. Walmart this year also started brokering Medicare plans, making it a competitor to health insurance companies, and also acquired a firm that develops medication management technology. These initiatives come a couple of years after the retail giant was reported to be in merger talks with insurance giant Humana.

As for its superstore and Sam's pharmacies, they have long served as yet another reason to enter Walmart for one-stop shopping, along with the eye doctors, banks and other services Walmart houses in its stores.

Governments may well see Walmart as a convenient location for patients to receive a vaccination — making them more likely to get inoculated — as well as a staid and reliable operating partner to deliver the vaccine. Throughout the pandemic, Walmart has been among the players in retail developing safety practices for stores that others have adopted, including occupancy limits, mask requirements and ramped-up store sanitization.

"We have been on quite a journey the last several months, from entering into agreements with the federal government to distribute the vaccine, to preparing our operations and clinical services, all to get ready to be one of the places our customers and associates can receive the vaccine," Gilder said in his post.

Walmart's biggest competitors in the retail healthcare space, CVS and Walgreens, are spearheading the vaccine rollout. CVS said earlier this month that it had been selected by the federal government to administer COVID-19 therapy to eligible patients in long-term care facilities and homes. That followed an announcement that CVS Health would hire 15,000 new employees in the fourth quarter, in part to help scale administration of the vaccine.

Mickey Chadha, lead drugstore analyst for Moody's, recently estimated that CVS and Walgreens could each make up to $2 billion from Medicare payments alone for vaccine administration, according to an emailed research note.

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