A growing contingent of big-name companies - including Walmart, Starbucks and Microsoft - are teaming up with local governments and medical providers to get coronavirus shots in more people’s arms.
The public-private efforts come as President Joe Biden has outlined his plans to combat the virus that has killed more than 400,000 Americans, which includes a goal to administer 100 million vaccines in the first 100 days of his administration.
The early stages of vaccine distribution under the Trump administration were marked by confusion and miscommunication. Poor coordination between the federal government and states created shortages in some regions, while severe bottlenecks left others rushing to deliver doses before they expired. Now, as vaccines remain hard to get and the pandemic continues to weigh on the economy, corporate giants are tapping their logistical and technological resources to help fast track vaccinations to their communities.
Walmart, the world's biggest retailer, has been preparing to offer the vaccine at its 5,000 U.S. locations. Starting this week, the retailer is making inoculations available through its stores in seven states, plus Chicago and Puerto Rico. Walmart expects to deliver 10 million to 13 million doses a month, "when supply and allocations allow," through its pharmacies and events in underserved communities.
"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," the retailer said Friday in a news release.
"With 150 million people passing through our doors each week, we're in a unique position to reach people where they already shop. We're also a federal pharmacy partner and can accept federal allocation of doses in all our Walmart and Sam's Club pharmacies."
This week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a public-private partnership with Starbucks, Microsoft, Costco and other homegrown brands to deliver vaccines in the state "as effectively and efficiently as possible." Meanwhile, Amazon is partnering with a Seattle hospital to hold a pop-up clinic Sunday with a goal of administering 2,000 vaccines to the public.
"Big retailers are in an ideal position to help with the vaccine rollout because their core businesses are already geared around serving millions of customers day in and day out. They have locations right across the country and they have national distribution and logistics networks that are efficient and effective in getting products to every corner of the nation," Neil Saunders, managing director of Global Data Retail in New York, said in comments emailed to The Washington Post.
"They're basically already doing what the government needs to do with vaccines. Moreover, a lot of the very big firms like Amazon and Walmart employ so many people that they can kick-start the program by vaccinating their own staff."
Amazon hopes this weekend's pop-up clinic at the company's headquarters, which is being done in partnership with Virginia Mason Medical Center, will be the first of many.
In a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday, Dave Clark, an Amazon executive, said the company is "prepared to leverage our operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration's vaccination efforts.
"Our scale allows us to make a meaningful impact immediately in the fight against COVID-19, and we stand ready to assist you in this effort."
At the Washington State Vaccine Command and Coordination Center, Starbucks, Microsoft and Costco are partnering with labor leaders and health officials to achieve the state's 45 million-dose daily vaccination goal. Microsoft offers "technology expertise and support," while Costco assists with delivery through its pharmacies and Starbucks aids in "operational efficiency, scalable modeling and human-centered design expertise," according to a news release from Gov. Jay Inslee's office.
“This is an opportunity to serve others and have impact on a significant humanitarian effort,” said Kevin Johnson, Starbucks president and CEO. “Governor Inslee has convened some of the best public and private resources and capabilities to engage in a concerted effort to optimize and accelerate the vaccination process across our home state. We are proud to contribute in every way we can to help operationalize and scale equitable access to the vaccine.”