As soon as Covid-19 vaccinations became available; federal retail partners like Kroger, Meijer, Publix, Topco, Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart began participating back in 2020. Retailers with in-store pharmacies started offering vaccinations to customers in California as early as December of last year.
Walmart previously announced they would begin administering Covid-19 vaccinations at over 5,100 pharmacy locations in the United States. Presently, Californians can receive a Covid-19 Booster at over 143 Walmart and Sams Club locations statewide. As a major retailer, Walmart has arguably the largest market penetration in the state of California. Out of the 27.2 million vaccinated to date in California, Walmart has been responsible for administering a good percentage of those shots to their customers.
Taking on the medical role of administering vaccines at in-store pharmacies comes with enormous responsibility. Ensuring the safety of personnel and customers is paramount. To Walmart's credit, they have done an admirable job of providing services at scale for millions of Californians. To the dismay of many Californians seeking to protect themselves with a booster, perhaps an almost too rigid set of guidelines have been established in which pharmacists, not doctors have the role of determining exactly who is eligible for a booster.
The practice has been to turn away patients who are seeking medical services that do not adhere to the 6-month minimum. Customers who are seeking a booster as early as 1 day before the recommended 6 month waiting period are being turned away and told to reschedule.
Recently the guidelines in California were changed. The recommendation now is that no one is turned away that is seeking a booster. Today we tested whether Walmart, the state's largest retailer had begun following the recommended procedures. Calls to several pharmacies in the Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Clara and Fresno area yielded the same results. Pharmacists were unaware of any change in regulations or guidelines related to issuing boosters.
Clearly not big readers of the Los Angeles Times, many pharmacies have not gotten the memo. A call to Folsom Walmart Supercenter #1760 pharmacy determined that were they not aware of any change to state guidelines. The pharmacist we spoke to said she believed Walmart policies supersede the recommendations of the California Department of Public Health. She stated that until Walmart told them otherwise, they would continue turning customers away that were seeking a booster before the previously recommended 6-month window.
Many consumers are wondering, why are Walmarts in California still adhering to these guidelines? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said for weeks that any adult who has received any of the three vaccines should get a booster if they live or work in settings that put them at increased risk for exposure.
“Do not turn a patient away who is requesting a booster,” Dr. Tómas Aragón, the state health officer and public health director, wrote in a letter. The fact that Walmart is responsible for administering such a large number of vaccines puts them in a unique position of responsibility to ensure they are following state guidelines to the letter. A practice that currently appears not to concern any of the Walmart pharmacies we spoke to.