At least once a month, the typical American shopper trudges to the local WalMart (NYSE:WMT) to stock up on groceries, dry goods, entertainment, and . . . vaccines? The company is in talks with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about what role it can play in the CDC's ambitious immunization process for the H1N1 (swine) influenza outbreak.
According to Dr. John Agwunobi, WalMart's president of health and wellness, as reported by MSNBC, the chain is offering to help with the CDC's plan to immunize the portion of the nation's population most vulnerable to the disease. 302 people in the U.S. have died of Swine Flu so far. The CDC recently estimated that hundreds of thousands of Americans could die of the disease in the next two years if the vaccine and other countermeasures fail.
WallMart's help could take the form of inoculation sites within some of its 4,000 U.S. stores, or by using its legendary logistics system to distribute the 160 million doses of the vaccine that will be available before flu season begins.
The offer certainly makes business sense for WalMart, which would experience a boost in foot traffic beyond its usual 140 million customers per month. Using its economy of scale and up-sell opportunities, the chain could set a price that would drive out any for-profit distributors. The company is already planning to offer the standard annual flu vaccines at its stores, administered by a third party.
The losers here stand to be the doctor's offices, clinics, and other health care outlets that use flu vaccinations to build good will and maintain contact with their customers. The winners? The American public, who would gain greater access to the vaccine.
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