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Independent pharmacies can be a shot in the arm for state vaccine programs

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. With many states struggling to immunize senior citizens and other vulnerable populations against COVID-19, two leading pharmacy groups today called on the nation’s governors to enlist independent long-term care pharmacies that know their communities best and can swing into action quickly.

“Independent long-term care pharmacists have the experience, specialized knowledge, and, most importantly, the relationships to bring the vaccine to the people who need it most,” said Chad Worz, chief executive of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, whose members specialize in long-term care. “Many states are struggling to serve long-term care populations. We are urging governors to take advantage of the independent long-term care pharmacists who are ready to vaccinate and are already serving these populations for their medication needs.”

Worz was joined by B. Douglas Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, which represents more than 21,000 independent pharmacies, including many who specialize in long-term care.

“The states that are most effective right now are states that have engaged community pharmacies in their vaccine programs,” said Hoey. “We need to immunize tens of millions of seniors, and we need to do it quickly. It’s too much to expect just two chain pharmacies to meet that challenge, no matter how big they are. Unlike the chains, many community pharmacists don’t have a learning curve when it comes to serving these populations. They’ve been doing it for decades, and they should be doing it now in every state.”

Worz and Hoey sent a joint letter today to the National Governors Association, urging its members to “deploy their existing state network of long-term care pharmacies and pharmacists to successfully vaccinate their LTC population.”

The federal government contracted with CVS and Walgreens to handle vaccine distribution in long-term care facilities. That effort has been bumpy according to numerous public reports. But there is an alternative, say Worz and Hoey, which is to use the new Federal Transfer Program and allocate vaccines to independent pharmacies.

“By requesting a transfer, states will be able to deploy all existing local and LTC pharmacies that have signed up with the CDC, which is critical to ensuring vaccine access in rural, isolated, and smaller skilled nursing facilities (SNF), assisted living facilities (ALF), and congregate care environments,” they say in their letter. “Currently, the large national pharmacy chains (CVS, Walgreens) have vaccinated a critical mass of larger SNFs, but there are still thousands of federally governed SNFs and close to 37,800 state run ALFs that require inoculations. By states engaging in the LTC jurisdiction transfer process, states will be able to utilize the pharmacists already in these care environments to vaccinate residents and patients.”

For obvious reasons, long-term care residents are among the first Americans eligible for the vaccine. Whether and when the rest of the country can be vaccinated depends on immunizing this population as quickly as possible.

“This is critical to vulnerable populations, but it’s also critical for the economy,” said Hoey. “We can’t get back to normal until most Americans are vaccinated.”


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