Wellness

What Walmart Will and Won't Do to Encourage COVID-19 Vaccinations

Retailer's approach will favor vaccine education vs. a mandate
Walmart COVID-19 vaccine administration preparation
Photograph courtesy of Walmart

Walmart will strongly encourage—but not require—its associates to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the retailer announced Jan. 22. 

A company blog post from recently named EVP for Health and Wellness Cheryl Pegus notes that Walmart is educating essential workers and all associates about getting the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are eligible to do so. However, Walmart will not mandate COVID-19 vaccination for any employee, and it is not providing incentives to get vaccinated "at this time," the post states.

Earlier this month, discount retailer Lidl said it would pay $200 to employees who received the COVID-19 vaccine to help cover associated costs, such as travel to a vaccination site and child care. Lidl also said it would make necessary worker schedule adjustments to allow for vaccinations. Dollar General and Instacart also separately announced plans to help cover costs or lost wages workers might otherwise incur to get the vaccine. On Jan. 19, Aldi announced it would give hourly employees two hours of pay for each COVID-19 vaccine dose they receive (four hours total). 

Pegus, in her post, said Walmart is at the ready to ramp up vaccine administration as distribution to states moves forward. "At the dawn of the most significant vaccine rollout of our lifetimes, Walmart again stands ready to serve," she writes. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer is planning to offer COVID-19 vaccination seven days a week through its pharmacies, in-store vaccination clinics and community events, the post notes.

To support the massive effort, Walmart has been training thousands of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians on vaccine administration and working to build a new online scheduling tool for COVID-19 vaccination appointments, the company said.

Walmart stands to be a major vaccination player in the U.S.—with more than 5,000 Walmart and Sam's Club pharmacies in the U.S. and Puerto Rico (and, as the company likes to note, 90% of the U.S. population living within 10 miles of a Walmart), the company has the scale and internal infrastructure to support seven-days-a-week vaccination and vaccination tracking. Customer proximity, and Walmart's status as a dominant retail player and regular destination for consumers especially in rural and underserved communities, could make it easier for Walmart to get to "yes" with consumers evaluating where, when and whether to get vaccinated.

"We have nearly 4,000 Walmart locations that are positioned within one or more of the federally designated medically underserved areas"—so-called healthcare deserts—"or where there are limited pharmacy options," Pegus notes. In addition, "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," she writes.

Walmart administered its first COVID-19 vaccinations (the Moderna vaccine) in December in New Mexico. 

The company will host its next Investor Day on Feb. 18; further details about Walmart's vaccine administration efforts are expected then. 

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