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Pharmacies slammed by demand for vaccines and staff shortages

(AP) – A rush of shoppers looking for vaccines and staff shortages are crushing drug stores across the United States, resulting in exhausted workers and temporary drug store closings.

Pharmacies are normally busy this time of year with flu shots and other vaccines, but now pharmacists are distributing an increasing number of COVID-19 vaccines and giving coronavirus tests.

Pressure for injections is expected to intensify as President Joe Biden urges vaccinated Americans to receive booster shots to fight the emerging variant of omicron. The White House said on Thursday that more than two in three COVID-19 vaccinations took place at local pharmacies.

And pharmacists are worried that another job will soon be added to their to-do list: If regulators approve antiviral pills from drugmakers Merck and Pfizer to treat COVID-19, pharmacists may be able to diagnose infections. , then prescribe pills to clients.

“There is currently a crazy increase in demand from pharmacies,” said Theresa Tolle, an independent pharmacist who has seen demand for COVID-19 vaccines quadruple since the summer at her store in Sebastian, Fla.

Pharmacists say demand for COVID-19 vaccines began to increase over the summer as the delta variant spread rapidly. Booster shots and expanding vaccine eligibility to include children have since fueled him.

In addition to this workload and routine prescriptions, many pharmacies have also asked pharmacists to advise patients more generally about their health or about chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Pharmacies have also handled more phone calls from customers with questions about vaccines or COVID-19 testing, noted Justin Wilson, who owns three independent pharmacies in Oklahoma.

“We are all working a lot harder than before, but we are doing everything we can to take care of people,” Wilson said, adding that he had so far not had to close any of his pharmacies or limit his working hours. ‘opening. .

Tolle said she was fortunate enough to hire a pharmacy resident just before the arrival of the Delta Wave. The new employee was supposed to focus primarily on diabetes programs, but was largely relegated to the immunization function.

Tolle said his Bay Street pharmacy now administers about 80 COVID-19 vaccines per day, up from 20 before the Delta Wave.

“God’s timing has worked out well for me,” she said. “We couldn’t have done it without this extra person here.”

Others weren’t so lucky. A CVS Health store in northeast Indianapolis closed its pharmacy mid-afternoon Thursday due to staffing issues. A sign stuck to the metal door above the closed pharmacy counter also told customers that the pharmacy would soon start closing for half an hour each afternoon so the pharmacist could take a lunch break.

Such temporary closures have ebbed and flowed into pockets across the country throughout the pandemic, but they have intensified in recent months, said Anne Burns, vice president of the American Pharmacists Association.

Pharmacies all need minimal staff to operate safely, and sometimes they have to close temporarily if they fall below these levels.

Burns said many pharmacies were already relatively small in staff before the pandemic, and a wave of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians left after the virus struck.

“There is a lot of stress and exhaustion for people who have been doing it since March 2020,” she said.

CVS Health spokesperson TJ Crawford said he could not comment on the circumstances of a store. But he said his company continues to “face a workforce shortage that is not unique to CVS Health.”

Rival drugstore chain Walgreens has also adjusted the opening hours of pharmacies “in a limited number of stores,” spokesman Fraser Engerman said.

Both companies are recruiting. CVS Health says it has hired 23,000 employees from a surge that began in September. About half of that was pharmacy technicians, who can administer vaccines.

As companies scramble to hire or keep staff, Burns and Tolle fear adding even more responsibilities like diagnosing and treating COVID-19.

Tolle noted that it is not yet clear how pharmacists will be reimbursed for the time they take to diagnose and prescribe. This will need to be clarified, especially if cases increase again and pharmacies need to add even more workers to help.

“We want to be able to help our communities,” she said. “I don’t know how pharmacies are going to handle this. “

Sherri Brown, an employee in the city of Omaha, Nebraska, was looking for a vaccine booster, but two nearby pharmacies did not have an appointment available and a third did not have the brand she wanted. . She ended up getting the vaccine at a county-run clinic on Friday.

“I just wanted to protect myself,” said Brown, who suffered for two weeks with cough, headaches and fatigue when she caught the virus in January before being vaccinated. “I guess I’m encouraged to see people taking this more seriously.”


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