Walmart is getting ready to administer Covid-19 vaccinations across the country once a vaccine is approved, the company's chief medical officer said Thursday.
In a post on the company's website, Dr. Tom Van Gilder said the retailer is preparing its more than 5,000 stores and Sam's Club locations to receive the vaccine doses — such as having freezers and dry ice at pharmacies to store them at the right temperature.
"I know we are all ready to get back to normal and enjoy life beyond the epidemic, and these vaccines will help us do that," he said.
Walmart is one of several companies gearing up for coronavirus vaccines, especially as the much-awaited doses get closer to approval and availability in the U.S. There are six vaccine candidates, including one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech that a Food and Drug Administration panel recommended for emergency use at a meeting Thursday. If the FDA gives the final OK, it could become the first vaccine distributed in the country.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage nationwide, the vaccine's availability could help slow the spread and get the economy back on track. More than 15 million Americans have gotten sick and more than 286,000 have died from Covid-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Wednesday marked the deadliest day of the pandemic for the U.S., as the country recorded 3,124 new coronavirus deaths, according to a CNBC analysis of the data.
Health-care workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities should be the first in line for the Covid-19 vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but states and jurisdictions will ultimately decide who is prioritized. CVS Health and Walgreens have struck deals with the government to administer the vaccine to staff and residents at nursing homes and other facilities.
On Thursday, CVS CEO Larry Merlo said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" that the company is ready to start vaccinations at those locations within 24 to 48 hours of receiving its share of vaccines.
"Pending approval, I'm confident that we'll be in thousands of facilities before the Christmas holiday," he said.
Gilder said Walmart is entering into agreements with states to be able to offer vaccinations at pharmacies or other locations, such as long-term care facilities. He did not specify the states or any agreements that the company has signed. A Walmart spokesperson declined to share additional details.
He said Walmart has begun to tackle other challenges that could slow down or complicate a widespread rollout to the general public, including educating employees about the vaccine so they're informed ahead of time.
Walmart is also thinking through a process to help people keep track of their first and second doses of the vaccine. The vaccines that require two doses must be separated by 21 or 28 days, depending on which one, and that timing boosts effectiveness.
Gilder said Walmart already has health-care staff who administer millions of doses of other vaccines. He said it's uniquely positioned to help get the vaccine to many Americans.
"With 90% of the American population living within 10 miles of a Walmart, we will play an important part in making sure those who want a vaccine can get one when they are eligible based on their state's prioritization, especially those in hard to reach parts of the country that have recently been hit hard by the epidemic," he said.