Local pharmacies say they need more COVID-19 vaccines as CVS, Walgreens ramp up shots

Brian Caswell, owner of Wolkar Drug in Baxter Springs, Kansas, has been eager for his independent pharmacy to help with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

He bought a specially equipped freezer for storage purposes, certified additional employees to administer vaccines and bought scheduling software to gear up for the push.

“Everybody stepped up to do everything that the CDC asked,” he said. “The only thing that we couldn’t get was vaccines.”

Drugstore giants CVS and Walgreens and big-box stores such as Walmart and Kroger got most of the vaccines from the initial allotment devoted to retail pharmacies, independent pharmacists said.

Community pharmacies, they argued, can play a critical role in delivering COVID-19 shots, so they’re frustrated that they aren’t receiving as many vaccines proportionally as major chains get from the federal, state and local governments. They said their personal relationships with their customers are crucial to a successful vaccine rollout, and they reject the suggestion that they don’t have the technology necessary to handle the scheduling process.

If local pharmacies are left out, that threatens to prevent Americans in low-income communities and people of color from getting vaccinated quickly since community pharmacies are more likely to be located in what the federal government considers to be socially vulnerable areas, independent pharmacists said.

The number of family-owned pharmacies is significant, despite a decline in recent years. About 1 in 3 of the nation’s 60,000 pharmacies are independently owned and operated.

“There’s been, in our opinion, an overweighted focus on two big chains: CVS and Walgreens,” said Douglas Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA). “The rollout of the vaccine will not be successful without incorporating local pharmacies into the distribution and administration.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not respond to a request seeking comment. The agency has acknowledged that since supplies are limited while manufacturing ramps up, “many pharmacies may not have a vaccine or may have very limited supply” for now.

Chain pharmacies had an edge in the vaccine race from the start, said Arun Sundaram, an equity analyst for CFRA Research who tracks Walgreens and Rite Aid.

“Obviously, these larger pharmacies have the infrastructure in place or they can build the infrastructure,” he said. “All of them have been playing a huge role in the COVID-19 testing, and now they’re also partnering with the government to administer vaccines.”

Local pharmacies want in
In the 63 major jurisdictions identified by the CDC for distribution of vaccines, locally owned pharmacies were initially allotted shots in only 17, according to the NCPA.

More than half of locally owned pharmacies are based in communities with a “high” or “very high” rating on the CDC’s social vulnerability index.

“Local pharmacies have to be involved,” the NCPA’s Hoey said.

Advocates for chains said they are best-suited to negotiate the federal contracts required to accept vaccines, establish digital scheduling systems and quickly accelerate distribution.

Locally owned pharmacies said they can keep up, in part because many of them are able to obtain joint contract language through organizations such as the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network (CPESN), which represents the interest of about 3,500 independent pharmacies and provides shared services to them. In its initial rollout, the CDC listed CPESN as one of 21 retail pharmacy partners for distribution of the vaccines, a list that included giants such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Kroger

Of CPESN’s thousands of pharmacies, only 82 received vaccines – 100 doses each – in the first week of distribution in mid-February, and none received doses in the second week, largely because of bad weather. In the third week, 116 were due to receive more than 35,000 doses, according to CPESN.

The CDC does not control all aspects of the rollout. The agency distributes most doses directly to the states, which direct doses to retail pharmacies, health departments and others.

State and local officials appear to bear most of the responsibility for decisions to distribute vials to which pharmacies, said CPESN spokesman Jay Williams. One reason may be because chains often have the most locations and the most recognizable brands.

But local pharmacies that have gotten vaccines are handling the process efficiently, he said.

“If they got 100 doses, they got 100 doses in arms in a couple days,” Williams said. “That’s the real story.” ReadMore..

Source : YahooNews

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