How to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine at Walmart

Walmart is just one of many retailers that will be offering COVID-19 vaccines. Learn how the process works and what you need to do.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine at Walmart

Almost six million people in the United States have received a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So far, most of the vaccines have gone to priority groups, meaning healthcare workers, people in nursing homes, and older folks. But as more doses become available, more people will be able to join the line.

In the next few months, you should be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine not only at healthcare facilities and doctors’ offices but also at retailers like Walmart.

Here’s what you need to know about the vaccine and how to get one at Walmart when the time comes.

Why is the vaccine important?

The vaccine helps protect you from COVID-19 and it will also help protect the people and communities around you. If enough people get vaccinated, we may even be able to achieve what’s known as herd immunity. That’s when enough people are immune to the disease that it can no longer spread easily.

This doesn’t mean the disease goes away completely. (In fact, you can get coronavirus more than once.) It just means it’s not spreading enough to be a pandemic or epidemic, says H. Dirk Sostman, MD, president of the Houston Methodist Academic Institute. “Think about it as a forest fire. If there’s less dry wood on the floor of the forest, the fire’s going to have more difficulty spreading,” he says. “Susceptible people are like fuel for the virus.” If fewer people are susceptible to the virus because they’ve been immunized, the virus has nowhere to go.

When do we achieve herd immunity?

No one knows exactly how many people need to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity, though, in the case of COVID-19, many experts are pointing to about 70 percent of the population, says Dr. Sostman. Here’s why coronavirus is different from all other epidemics in history.

Are the vaccines effective?

The two vaccines that are available in the United States now—one from Moderna and one from Pfizer—are each about 95 percent effective, if both doses are given, says the World Health Organization.

This means that there were 95 percent fewer cases of COVID-19 in people who got the vaccine as part of recent clinical trials versus those who weren’t inoculated. This is a remarkably high number.

By contrast, the typical flu vaccine is only 40 to 60 percent effective, according to the CDC. Find out why you need a new flu shot every year.

“Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine…are equally effective and it does not matter which vaccine people receive,” says Alex McDonald, MD, a practicing family physician in San Bernardino, California. “I tell people to take whichever one is available to you. However, make sure both doses you receive are from the same vaccine.”

Will the vaccines protect against new strains of the virus?

At least two new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have been identified, one from the U.K. and one in South Africa. Recent research (not yet peer-reviewed), published in bioRxiv, indicates that the Pfizer vaccine will, in fact, cover the U.K. COVID-19 virus mutations. Scientists are still studying whether existing vaccines will cover the version of the virus first identified in South Africa.

Who should—and should not—get a vaccine?

Public health authorities are encouraging as many people as possible to get the vaccine, especially those who are at high risk for COVID-19 complications. The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine for people aged 16 and over. The Moderna vaccine can be given to people 18 and over.

The only people who should not get the COVID-19 vaccine at this point are those who had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the same vaccine or one of its ingredients, says the CDC.

People who have a history of allergic reactions, including to other vaccines, should be observed for 15 to 30 minutes after getting their shot. You can also get a COVID-19 vaccine if you’ve already been infected with the virus, although you should wait until you’ve recovered from any symptoms. Here are signs you may have already had COVID-19.

Is the vaccine safe?

Even though a few people have had allergic reactions to the shot, the two vaccines available now are still very safe. The most common side effect is the same as with any vaccine: a sore arm where the needle went in. Some people also experience flu-like symptoms like headache, slight fever, chills, and muscle aches.

These are more common with the second dose but they go away in 24 hours or so and can be easily treated with Tylenol or Motrin, says Dr. Sostman. In fact, they’re actually a good sign. “They’re manifestations of your body reacting appropriately to the vaccine,” he adds. “They’re not safety issues.”

What is the vaccine process?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses in order to be fully effective. The two doses of the Pfizer vaccine need to be given 21 days apart while the two Moderna doses are separated by 28 days. Right now, experts are advising people to avoid any other vaccines within 14 days of getting the Covid-19 vaccine.

Most people with health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, should not have to pay for a vaccine. The federal government has also bought millions of doses for people who are uninsured, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

How can I get a COVID-19 vaccine at Walmart?

Walmart is already helping to administer the Moderna vaccine to healthcare workers in New Mexico. Eventually, it will offer vaccines at the more than 5,000 Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacy locations throughout the United States. First up will be essential workers, first responders, and older Americans in “Priority 1B” and “Priority 1C” as designated by the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Walmart predicts that Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacists will be able to give COVID-19 vaccines to all Americans in the spring and summer. Locations are making sure they have freezers and other equipment and supplies to store and administer the doses. It’s not clear yet if appointments will be required. But the chain is putting in place processes to make sure that people are notified when they need to get their second dose.

Next, here are other services you didn’t know you could get at Walmart.

Sources: 

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “CDC COVID Data Tracker”
  • Walmart: “Administering COVID-19 Vaccines”
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Briefing Document Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine”
  • New England Journal of Medicine: “Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine”
  • bioRvix: “Neutralization of N501Y mutant SARS-CoV-2 by BNT162b2 vaccine-elicited sera”
  • World Health Organization: “Overview of Vaccine Efficacy and Vaccine Effectiveness”
  • CDC: “Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do the Flu Vaccines Work?”
  • Alex McDonald, MD, practicing family physician, San Bernardino, California
  • CDC: “Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States”
  • Commonwealth Fund: “The COVID-19 Vaccine Is Coming, but Will It Be Paid For? Federal and State Policies to Fill Gaps in Insurance Coverage”
  • Walmart: “Walmart Begins Administering its First COVID-19 Vaccines to Health Care Workers in New Mexico”
  • CDC: “Evidence Table for COVID-19 Vaccines Allocation in Phases 1b and 1c of the Vaccination Program”
  • Walmart: “Pharmacy Locator”
  • Walmart: “Walmart is Preparing to Administer the COVID-19 Vaccine Once Approved”

Originally Published on The Healthy

Amanda Gardner
Amanda Gardner is a freelance health reporter whose stories have appeared in cnn.com, health.com, cnn.com, WebMD, HealthDay, Self Magazine, the New York Daily News, Teachers & Writers Magazine, the Foreign Service Journal, AmeriQuests (Vanderbilt University) and others. In 2009, she served as writer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She is also a community artist and recipient or partner in five National Endowment for the Arts grants.