Walmart, Kroger and Walgreens and other top retailers could play a role in administering the COVID-19 vaccine expected to be available in the coming weeks and months. Consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers are also pledging support in education and furthering vaccine adoption.
According to health experts, public support of vaccines is critical because 70% of the population needs either viral immunity or a vaccine to break the pandemic. A recent report from market research firm IRI indicates mixed consumer acceptance of vaccines. The resistance provides retailers and their suppliers opportunities to incentivize consumer adoption of the vaccines, driving store traffic and ultimately growing loyalty with new and existing shoppers.
IRI polled consumers in mid-November and found 20.5% said they plan to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, but nearly one in 10 said they would wait at least six months before getting it. Another 17% would wait a couple of months, and 24.2% said they have no plan to get the vaccine.
Men are far more interested than women in getting the vaccine as soon as it’s available. One in two female respondents said they are not interested or are unsure about getting the vaccine. There are differences in sentiment among the various ethnicities, with Blacks being the least likely to line up for the COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly two-thirds of Blacks and 58% of Hispanics indicated to IRI they are unsure or do not plan to get the vaccine.
The desire to get the vaccine also rises with age as senior consumers over 74 being the most eager at 36.3%. Older baby boomers between 64 and 73 are the next most eager at 26.7%. Younger boomers between 55 and 63 are less eager at 21.1%.
Generation X (ages 39-54) was among the lowest adoption rate at 15.9%. Millennials were split, with the younger group (18-29) being more eager than the older group (30-38) at 17.8% and 14.6%, respectively.
Overall interest in getting a vaccine is mixed. As of mid-November, more than half the population remained unsure or uninterested in a vaccine. Males, older consumers, high-income and urban consumers are far more interested in getting the vaccine as soon as possible. Women, Blacks, Hispanics, lower-income and rural consumers are less likely to get a vaccine immediately. Adoption of the vaccine is expected to be slow with the level of skepticism. Still, IRI anticipates healthcare workers will vaccinate a significant portion of consumers by mid-year to the end of 2021.
Degrees of vaccine acceptance also vary between income and geography, which has healthcare professionals clamoring for help from retailers and manufacturers to advocate for and administer the vaccine.
“Public health agencies should consider taking vaccinations out of medical settings and into places where people work or shop,” said Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at Johns Hopkins University.
IRI said Operation Warp Speed, led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and private firms — including pharmaceutical companies — is underway to coordinate efforts producing and distributing 300 million free or low-cost vaccines.
Several retailers and pharmacy companies, including Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, Publix, H-E-B and CVS have agreements in place to distribute the vaccine.
Walmart Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Van Gilder said the retailer is busy preparing more than 5,000 stores and Sam’s Club pharmacies to receive the vaccine. That includes ensuring they have a freezer in all pharmacy locations and dry ice to handle any requirements for vaccine storage.
“We are entering into agreements with states to be able to support vaccinations where needed, whether that is in our pharmacies or long-term care facilities where the states determine they need our help,” Gilder said Dec. 12. He said Walmart is also educating employees about the mild flu-like symptoms in about 10% to 15% of trial participants.
Gilder reiterated there had been no reports of severe side effects. He also said the federal government would determine who should receive the vaccine first, and Walmart would have no say in that, but the retailer is ready to support states once they do receive the vaccines. Walmart is the largest employer in the U.S., with more than 1.2 million employees, many of whom have remained in stores and distribution centers.
Gilder said the education is essential ahead of when the vaccine arrives so those who are eligible will have all the facts they need. He said with 90% of consumers living within 10 miles of a Walmart, the retailer plays an essential 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 rural parts of the country recently walloped by the pandemic.
IRI anticipates that a significant proportion of consumers will get vaccinated by mid-year to the end of 2021, noting the two-dose vaccines mean retailers have two additional opportunities to connect with shoppers.
Brands can incentivize shoppers with rewards, such as coupons or other offers, when customers get vaccinated. The report said given the demographic skews of early adopters, retailers and manufacturers have an opportunity to offer products, promotions and messages tailored to them and evolve offers as adoption increases.
IRI said that despite not being part of the immediate solution, CPG manufacturers could be good citizens and offer incentives and support for those who seek the vaccine. There is also the opportunity to partner with retailers to promote vaccines, offer targeted product messages and promotions on the indulgent and wellness products while consumers are in the store.
The Northwest Arkansas Business Journal asked Springdale-based Tyson Foods, a major Walmart supplier, what stance it took at advocating employees to get the vaccine.
“We are closely monitoring the various vaccines in development and hoping for an effective product to help stem the spread of the disease. Our focus is on educating our team members to have accurate information and make the vaccine easily accessible to those who want to take it. We have been working proactively with healthcare experts, including Matrix Medical, on planning and distribution models that could enable our team members to get access to a vaccine when one becomes available in a timely manner,” said Derek Burleson, Tyson Foods corporate spokesman.
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