Jan. 27, 2021
By Lisa Smith, Senior Director, Health & Wellness
As we prepare this week to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines in Maryland, Texas, Delaware, Indiana and the District of Columbia to eligible populations as determined by each district and state, we know our pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are ready. It has been a year of hard work and preparation to get to this point. And as more people become eligible for vaccination, it’s a good time to take a look back at how we got here.
I’m on the clinical team with Dr. Tom Van Gilder, our chief medical officer, and last year, as soon as we heard about the speed at which COVID-19 was spreading toward the United States, we started planning immediately. And when we learned the viral sequence of SARS-CoV-2 was discovered in January of 2020, we knew at that point researchers could start working on a vaccine.
So, for a little over a year, we’ve been learning, planning and educating ourselves and our health care professionals on what a vaccine rollout could look like. The good news was we were already in a strong position.
Over the last few years, vaccines have become a significant part of how our pharmacies provide service to their communities. Administering vaccines for things like influenza and tetanus have become routine for our pharmacists and, in some states, pharmacy technicians. We felt good about that, but we also felt like we owed it to our customers and communities to be ready for a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. And at the time, we didn’t know how quickly a vaccine would be available.
Over the summer of 2020, planning really began to pick up. We had our first calls with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Health and Human Services (HHS). We pulled together multidisciplinary teams from all over our organizations. We knew it would take everyone from store operations and clinical support to data and analytics to think about the best ways to tackle this large-scale vaccine rollout.
As a result, right now we have over 5,000 Walmart store and Sam’s Club locations that are operationally and clinically ready to administer vaccines in our facilities and in communities through vaccination events.
But the work didn’t stop at simply being operationally ready.
Walmart is in a number of communities where it’s difficult to access health care. As we work with state and local officials, we’re using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index and other tools to be thoughtful and purposeful in cases of limited vaccine allocation, so we can have the best impact possible.
And we’ve ramped up education and clinical training, so our customers and associates feel confident about getting the vaccine as early as they’re eligible. Our Pharmacy staff in stores and clubs already have extensive clinical training, but we’ve put a large focus on vaccine hesitancy training and educating our associates about the vaccine. We want to make sure everyone has the most accurate and up-to-date information to make the best health decisions for themselves and their families.
That’s really why I got into health care in the first place - for moments like this. This is a once-in-a-career moment to help people get back to doing what they love and, more importantly, being with those they love.
We’re already hearing great feedback from our patients in locations where we’re administering vaccines according to state eligibility, like our Sam’s Club in Greenville, South Carolina. It’s exciting to see the gratitude and the optimism these patients have as they get vaccinated. We can’t wait until more people across the country have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once their state has the allocation and determines eligibility to broader groups of people.
It's taken a lot of preparation to get to where we are, and our pharmacists are ready and excited to get started taking the fight to COVID-19 by administering vaccines. We are all in this together.