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story.lead_photo.caption FILE -- The entrance to the Bentonville Walmart is seen on Tuesday May 19, 2020 along South Walton Boulevard. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

Walmart Inc. is giving covid-19 vaccinations to health care workers at some of its pharmacies in New Mexico. The retailer's own store employees will be among those next in line for the shots when the nation moves into the second phase of immunizations.

Front-line health care workers are eligible for the first phase of vaccinations as laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Tom Van Gilder, Walmart's chief medical officer, said in a recent post on the company's website that the New Mexico Department of Health chose Walmart stores and Sam's Clubs in rural areas as sites to administer the vaccine.

Because the Bentonville-based retailer's pharmacists are giving the shots, Van Gilder said, they were offered the first doses of the Moderna vaccine.

"We know the vital role our stores, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will play in the immunization of communities across the country, so keeping them healthy and safe is a critical first link in the chain of wide vaccine distribution," Van Gilder said.

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Walmart is in discussions with other states about administering the vaccine, Van Gilder said, and will reveal those details as they become available. The company is also preparing its more than 5,000 pharmacies at Walmart stores and Sam's Clubs nationwide to immunize people in the next two phases of the vaccine rollout as recommended by the CDC.

The agency said it's giving recommendations to federal, state and local governments about who should get the vaccine first because initial supplies are expected to be limited. So far, it has grouped populations to receive the vaccine in three phases.

The CDC recommended on Dec. 3 that the first to be vaccinated, in what it has designated as Phase 1a, are health care personnel and residents of long-term-care facilities such as nursing homes.

On Dec. 22, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices identified the next two groups of people who should get the vaccine as supplies become available. Phase 1b includes other essential workers such as grocery store workers, firefighters, police officers and educators. It also includes anyone 75 and older who was not in the 1a group.

Phase 1c comprises people age 65-74; anyone between 16 and 64 who has underlying medical conditions; and other essential workers such as those in food service, transportation and logistics, construction, law, media and information technology.

Van Gilder said Walmart will also be prepared to vaccinate the general population in the spring and summer "when the broad rollout happens."

Walmart has not revealed its plans for vaccinating its nearly 1.5 million U.S. store workers.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, has authorized other pharmacies and pharmacy networks to administer the vaccine, as well. These include Albertsons Co., CVS Health, Kroger Co. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.

Albertsons, which operates more than 1,700 pharmacies under numerous brands, said it gave its first doses of Pfizer's vaccine on Dec. 18 at a clinic in Alaska staffed by its pharmacists.

The Idaho-based supermarket retailer said in a news release that it has received doses in eight other states and more supplies are coming. Albertsons also said it plans to hire 800 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians nationwide to help with administering the vaccine as well as filling customers' prescriptions.

"Throughout the pandemic, customers have trusted our pharmacy teams to play a critical role in maintaining their health and wellness," said Omer Gajial, senior vice president of Albertsons Cos. Pharmacy and Health. "We are preparing and expanding our trained pharmacy teams to handle the unprecedented demand and administer the vaccine safely and efficiently to the communities we serve as it becomes available."

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