Leading pharmacy retailers Walmart and Albertsons Cos. have administered their first coronavirus shots as they ramp up preparation and delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations across the country.
Walmart has begun giving the recently approved Moderna vaccine to health care workers at selected Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs in New Mexico, Dr. Tom Van Gilder, chief medical officer at Walmart, said in a blog post on Wednesday. According to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Walmart is prioritizing health care personnel, including pharmacy staff, for administration of COVID-19 immunizations in Phase 1a of the national vaccine allocation.
“The New Mexico Department of Health carefully chose store locations to help ensure that the vaccine is safely administered in rural areas that need help supporting vaccine distribution to health care workers,” Van Gilder said. “Because our pharmacists will be on the front lines of administering these vaccines, we are offering our first doses to them. The first Walmart pharmacist to receive a vaccine in one of our facilities was pharmacy clinical service manager Alexis Abbatantuono, a 13-year associate, and she is excited to support her community. We know the vital role our stores, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will play in the immunization of communities across the country, so keeping them healthy and safe is a critical first link in the chain of wide vaccine distribution.”
Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart is in talks with other states to support their coronavirus vaccine rollouts, and the retail giant is readying its more than 5,000 Walmart and Sam’s Club in-store pharmacies to administer the immunization to essential workers, first responders and older Americans in Phases 1b and 1c as recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
“We will also be prepared for all Americans to receive the vaccine in the spring and summer when the broad rollout happens. In the meantime, we will continue to protect ourselves and each other by wearing a face covering, maintaining social distance and practicing recommended hygiene practices,” Van Gilder added. “Walmart is a center of health and well-being for millions of Americans across the country, and administering COVID-19 vaccines is another way we’re making health care accessible for the communities we serve and support.”
Albertsons, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that it began administering its first COVID-19 vaccine doses, from Pfizer, for Phase 1a recipients on Dec. 18 at a clinic in Alaska staffed by Carrs/Safeway pharmacists. The Boise, Idaho-based supermarket retailer said it has received doses in eight other states and more supplies of the vaccination are on the way.
To meet the expected high demand for the coronavirus vaccine, Albertsons has kicked off a campaign to hire and train more than 800 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians nationwide. The company said it’s hiring across all retail banners and geographies it serves, which includes over 1,700 pharmacies inside Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw's, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen and Carrs stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia.
Albertsons said it will work public health authorities to find the most logical sites for administering COVID-19 vaccines, including supermarket pharmacies or separate community locations. (Photo courtesy of Albertsons)
“Throughout the pandemic, customers have trusted our pharmacy teams to play a critical role in maintaining their health and wellness,” stated Omer Gajial, senior vice president of pharmacy and health for Albertsons Cos. “We are preparing and expanding our trained pharmacy teams to handle the unprecedented demand and administer the vaccine safely and efficiently to the communities we serve as it becomes available.”
Albertsons noted that it will work public health authorities to target specific priority groups and identify the most logical sites for administering COVID-19 vaccines, whether that be in a supermarket pharmacy or at a separate community location. To inform customers, the company has launched a new website for each of its store banners that features education, FAQs, updates, eligibility criteria and scheduling options for coronavirus immunization. Albertsons, too, is reminding the public to adhere to CDC guidelines to protect themselves and health care staff from COVID-19, including frequent hand washing, social distancing, and wearing masks or face coverings.
“As we turn the page to 2021, we look forward to enabling relief promised by the COVID-19 vaccine,” Gajial added. “We are providing this critical public health service, with federal and state partnerships, safely through our well-trained pharmacy teams across our stores.”
Walmart is the third-largest U.S. pharmacy retailer, behind CVS Health and Walgreens, and Albertsons is the sixth-largest, after The Kroger Co. and Rite Aid, in estimated prescription revenue (2019), according to the Drug Channels Institute. Both Walmart and Albertsons have partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to broaden public access to coronavirus vaccines through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Strategy for COVID-19 Vaccination.