Community pharmacies say they can play a critical role in COVID-19 vaccine rollout, but they are not receiving as much vaccine proportionately as the pharmaceutical giants.
According to USA Today, one in three of the nation’s 60,000 pharmacies is family owned. They are in a unique position to help local communities that are socially vulnerable, say supporters, and have already earned the trust of their clients who may be vaccine hesitant.
But the drugstore giants like CVS and Walgreens, along with big-box stores such as Walmart and Kroger, received most of the initial allotment of vaccines from the federal, state, and local governments.
“There has been, in our opinion, an overweighted focus on two big chains: CVS and Walgreens,” Douglas Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), told USA Today. “The rollout of the vaccine will not be successful without incorporating local pharmacies into the distribution and administration.”
Experts say that the bigger pharmacies already have the infrastructure in place to distribute vaccine and have played an integral role in COVID-19 testing so they have had the edge in receiving supplies.
Many mom and pop pharmacies have suffered financial hardship gearing up to administer COVID-19 vaccines, according to NBC News. They have invested large amounts of money in getting special freezers for the vaccines, obtaining more personal protective equipment, and hiring more help. Many are having a difficult time getting reimbursed for their costs from insurance companies, but they are still determined to play an important role in getting vulnerable Americans vaccinated.
Advocates argue that small, local drug stores are in the best position to help the technically challenged seniors who are having a tough time getting vaccine appointments from the larger pharmacies.
“We have some of the best technology out there,” said Michele Belcher, owner of a pharmacy in Grants Pass, Oregon, according to USA Today.
“The feedback that I have had is overwhelming on how easy it is to use,” she said, adding that most small pharmacies have robots to help with the packaging and dispensing of vaccines. Belcher, a second-generation pharmacist, said that because of her relationship with local health officials, she has been able to administer 50 to 75 shots daily.
“It’s been a very positive relationship, and I feel very fortunate because I definitely heard my colleagues across the country talk about that’s not necessarily the relationship that exists in every county,” she said, according to USA Today.
In February, the Biden administration vowed to fully partner with community pharmacies to deliver more vaccines in an effort to reach more Americans, according to NBC News.
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