Before the COVID-19 vaccine was available, independent pharmacies quickly jumped on the opportunity to offer testing to their communities. This helped increase testing availability to more Americans across the country and was an essential part of capturing COVID-19 data.
In December 2020, the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in the United States. The federal government partnered with chain retail pharmacies to help the vaccination effort, but there was no clear instruction or conversation surrounding the role of independent pharmacies.
Some states have included independent pharmacies in their vaccination efforts. Not by coincidence, these states have high vaccine distribution rates, and are quickly vaccinating their high-priority groups. In most states, independent pharmacies are qualified to offer vaccines and are a critical component in the effort to quickly vaccinate communities across the country.
A Link to Rural Communities
Chain pharmacies like Rite Aid and CVS are found in cities with large populations, and typically don’t service patients in rural communities. Although chain pharmacies might have immediate access to COVID-19 vaccines immediately, patients from rural communities face more challenges reaching them and obtaining the vaccine.
“Our staff are all local community-based members,” says Steve Maki, owner of Spruce Mountain Pharmacy. “We try and be a part of the community as much as we can be.” Spruce Mountain Pharmacy is preparing to administer COVID-19 vaccines, and is currently offering patients the chance to join a waitlist.
Independent pharmacy owners are often able to offer services closer to the homes of their patients. Some independent pharmacies are even capable of making house visits, something that chain pharmacies just don’t do.
“During the pandemic, we're able to offer better service to our patients who request home delivery, and we've expanded county-wide,” says Tyler Young, pharmacist at Hines Prescription Shop.
Community pharmacies are uniquely positioned to serve rural communities and are often the closest health care provider to thousands of patients. Reducing the barriers to obtain the vaccine will help increase the number of vaccinated Americans living in rural areas in 2021. Without the help of independent pharmacies, there will likely be some communities that are overlooked in the vaccination effort.
More Manpower = Higher Vaccination Rate
When the federal governments decided to partner with chains like CVS and Walgreens, some independent pharmacy owners felt it would delay the vaccination process. Many chain pharmacies struggle with limited staffing.
Independent pharmacies may vary in staff sizes, but can offer additional manpower of qualified individuals to help vaccinate more communities.
Towards the end of 2020, pharmacy technicians in some states were granted the ability to administer vaccines. Although the qualifications vary from state to state, it is clear that more manpower is needed to help vaccinate Americans.
A Community Built on Trust
A key characteristic of many independent pharmacies is the personal relationships that they build with their community. Unlike chain pharmacies, independent pharmacies often know more about their patients, beyond the medications that they take.
“Our pharmacy is known for our level of service and attention to detail, making sure that we do what we promise and making sure that our patients are getting care that they need,” says Chandra Patel, owner of Heritage Pharmacy. “A lot of times we're seeing a lot of transfers from competitors like the chain pharmacies because they're not getting the service that they need and deserve.”
For some patients, local pharmacies have cared for their families for generations. They know their pharmacist on a first name basis and feel like they are getting exceptional service.
Since the vaccine was quickly developed, there are some patients who may feel hesitant to receive it. They are more likely to trust and feel safer getting their vaccine from their local pharmacist, with whom they have built a personal relationship with.
At RxSafe, we are proud to support independent pharmacies joining the fight against COVID-19. We hope to see more states work towards including independent pharmacies in their vaccine program.
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