COVID-19 Small Business Resources
September 14-20, 2020
Walmart to offer flu shots at all stores; also announces plan to vaccinate entire workforce amid pandemic
As researchers continue to look for a COVID-19 vaccine this fall, Walmart Stores Inc. is launching a digital scheduler so customers can book an appointment for a flu shot at any one of Walmart’s 4,700-plus nationwide.
“Flu shots are more important than ever in light of COVID-19. With our health care system facing the strain of the pandemic on top of the annual flu season, getting a flu shot can help lessen the burden on the health care industry while also protecting against at least one of the viruses affecting our well-being,” said Walmart Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Van Gilder. “We’re all anxiously awaiting the COVID-19 vaccine, but by getting a flu shot now, we can do our ‘immunity service’ to help keep our communities safe and healthy this fall.”
At the same time, Walmart said it is also making sure its 1.5 million associates have access to flu shots with no out-of-pocket costs, regardless of their insurance status, so the country’s largest workforce can stay healthy and continue to serve communities throughout flu season.
“We are so proud of our associates for their incredible work serving communities throughout the pandemic, and we are proud to provide access to flu shots with no out-of-pocket costs for them to help everyone stays safe and healthy this flu season,” Van Gilder said. “Walmart associates are being encouraged to do their ‘immunity service’ by getting flu shots, and we hope our neighbors will join us to protect our communities as well.”
Walmart’s flu shots are administered by our pharmacy staff with no out-of-pocket costs from most major insurance plans. Walmart also offers a variety of initiatives in place to make it easy for customers and associates to get safely vaccinated while following COVID-19 protocols, including:
• Flu shot events: Beginning on Sept. 10, Walmart stores will host in-store events on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons to encourage customers to get their flu shots during their regularly scheduled shopping trips. In addition, on Saturday, Sept. 26, Walmart will host a flu shot Wellness Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, visit Walmart.com/Flu.
• Digital appointment scheduler: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Walmart is launching a digital scheduler that reserves flu shot appointments directly via the Walmart mobile app. This allows customers to schedule their flu shot appointment prior to heading to the store for their regular grocery shopping trip. Customers will fill out their patient questionnaire online to setup an appointment and make the in-store vaccination process as efficient as possible. Walk-in appointments are also available. Once at the store, customers will have a COVID-19 screening prior to receiving their flu shot.
• Special pharmacy hours and safety precautions: Walmart is working closely with national and local public health officials, as well as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to help customers and associates stay safe during the pandemic. Stores nationwide have enacted safety precautions including a mask mandate, single-direction aisles to promote social distancing in-stores and health screenings for pharmacists and associates. Additionally, Walmart is offering a special pharmacy hour for seniors and at-risk customers from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Tuesday mornings with flu shots available during this timeframe.
NIH continues to boost national COVID-19 testing capacity
The National Institutes of Health on Sept. 2 announced $129.3 million in scale-up and manufacturing support for a new set of COVID-19 testing technologies as part of its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative. NIH is awarding contracts to nine companies for technologies that include portable point-of-care tests for immediate results and high-throughput laboratories that can return results within 24 hours. These tests add to initial awards made to seven companies on July 31, 2020.
“Diagnostic testing is a critical component of the nation’s strategy to meet the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins. “Just started at the end of April, the RADx initiative has moved swiftly to speed innovation and later-stage development in the biomedical technology sector. The results thus far have been outstanding.”
In addition to NIH support, aspects of some of the testing technologies have been supported by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), also in the Department of Health and Human Services, and by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in the Department of Defense.
“One of the many facets of our testing strategy is to support and enable innovation,” said Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health. “The new technologies being funded today have the potential to transform the diagnostics landscape if their promise is proven in clinical studies. This all-of-government approach to testing innovation including DARPA, BARDA, NIH, HHS, and the private sector will yield benefits not only for the current pandemic, but for diverse acute and chronic diseases Americans fight every day.”
Today’s contracts support several novel technologies, some that use RT-PCR, a sensitive way to qualitatively detect nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2. Included is a portable, battery-powered RT-PCR device that gives accurate results in 15 minutes, and a portable mini-lab with reagent flexibility that can perform RT-PCR assays in community hospitals and clinics in underserved, rural populations.
Additional technologies include a lateral-flow immunoassay test strip that can be read without specialized equipment and a sample concentrating method that significantly improves the sensitivity and performance of many different types of tests. Five high-throughput laboratories will provide an expanded network of coverage for fast-turnaround laboratory tests in regions of national need. Each of these labs will manage the collection, analysis, and reporting of tens of thousands of tests per day at each site, significantly expanding national testing in September.
“Many of these tests incorporate innovations that have moved from research labs to the point of care with unprecedented speed,” said Bruce Tromberg, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and lead for RADx Tech, one of four programs of the NIH RADx initiative. “That process normally takes years, but RADx has brought together key experts in technology, medicine and commercialization to bring new tests to market in only five to six months.”
NIH is developing and supporting this diverse group of tests to meet the needs of different communities. Factors such as speed, cost, accessibility and technical performance are key considerations for RADx support. These new technologies collectively will significantly increase the number, type and availability of tests by millions per week by this fall.
“The opportunity to scale up high-throughput laboratories and rapid point-of-care tests to meet the needs of communities all around the country is critical,” said Rick Bright, Ph.D., senior advisor to the NIH director and lead for the RADx-Advanced Technology Platforms program. “The RADx initiative reflects the scientific ingenuity, technical diversity and logistical capabilities of the private sector at its finest.”
FDA gives emergency authorization for convalescent plasma treatment of COVID-19 patients
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for investigational convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalized patients as part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to fight COVID-19. Based on scientific evidence available, the FDA concluded, as outlined in its decision memorandum, this product may be effective in treating COVID-19 and that the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product.
The Aug. 23 action follows the FDA’s extensive review of the science and data generated over the past several months stemming from efforts to facilitate emergency access to convalescent plasma for patients as clinical trials to definitively demonstrate safety and efficacy remain ongoing. The EUA authorizes the distribution of COVID-19 convalescent plasma in the U.S. and its administration by health care providers, as appropriate, to treat suspected or laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 in hospitalized patients with COVID-19.
“The FDA’s emergency authorization for convalescent plasma is a milestone achievement in President Trump’s efforts to save lives from COVID-19,” said Secretary Alex Azar. “Months ago, the FDA, BARDA, and private partners began work on making this product available across the country while continuing to evaluate data through clinical trials. Our work on convalescent plasma has delivered broader access to the product than is available in any other country and reached more than 70,000 American patients so far.”
Added FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn: “I am committed to releasing safe and potentially helpful treatments for COVID-19 as quickly as possible in order to save lives. We’re encouraged by the early promising data that we’ve seen about convalescent plasma. The data from studies conducted this year shows that plasma from patients who’ve recovered from COVID-19 has the potential to help treat those who are suffering from the effects of getting this terrible virus.”
Based on an evaluation of the EUA criteria and the totality of the available scientific evidence, the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research determined that the statutory criteria for issuing an EUA criteria were met.
The FDA said it determined that it is reasonable to believe that COVID-19 convalescent plasma may be effective in lessening the severity or shortening the length of COVID-19 illness in some hospitalized patients. The agency also determined that the known and potential benefits of the product, when used to treat COVID-19, outweigh the known and potential risks of the product and that that there are no adequate, approved, and available alternative treatments.
The EUA is not intended to replace randomized clinical trials and facilitating the enrollment of patients into any of the ongoing randomized clinical trials is critically important for the definitive demonstration of safety and efficacy of COVID-19 convalescent plasma. The FDA continues to recommend that the designs of ongoing randomized clinical trials of COVID-19 convalescent plasma and other therapeutic agents remain unaltered, as COVID-19 convalescent plasma does not yet represent a new standard of care based on the current available evidence.