US pharmacies under pressure from vaccine demand amid staff shortages

A surge of customers looking for a vaccine and staff shortages are squeezing pharmacies across the United States, leading to labor stress and temporary pharmacy closures.

At this time of year, pharmacies are usually busy with flu shots and other vaccines, but now pharmacists are getting more and more COVID-19 shots and coronavirus tests.

The push for the shots is expected to grow even more acute as President Joe Biden urges vaccinated Americans to get a booster shot to combat the emerging omicron variant. The White House said on Thursday that more than two-thirds of COVID-19 vaccinations are taking place at local pharmacies.

And pharmacists worry another job could soon be added to their to-do lists: If regulators approve antiviral drugs from drugmakers Merck and Pfizer to treat COVID -19, pharmacists can diagnose infections and then prescribe medications to customers.
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Theresa Tolle, an independent pharmacist who has seen demand for a COVID-19 vaccine quadruple since the summer at the Sebastian, Florida store.

Pharmacists say demand for a COVID-19 vaccine begins to increase during the summer as the delta variant spreads rapidly. The booster shots and the expansion of vaccine eligibility to include children began there.

In addition to the usual workload and prescribing, many pharmacies also require pharmacists to advise patients more generally about their health or about chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Justin Wilson, who owns three independent pharmacies in Oklahoma, said: “Pharmacies have also been handling more calls from customers with questions about vaccines or COVID-19 testing.

“We’re all working a lot harder than we used to, but we’re doing everything we can to take care of everyone,” Wilson said, adding that he hasn’t had to temporarily close any stores. any of its pharmacies or limit its hours of operation. .

Tolle said she was lucky to hire a pharmacy resident just before the storm broke out in the delta. The new staff is said to be focused primarily on diabetes programs but has largely been removed from immunization duties.

Tolle said her Bay Street pharmacy is now delivering about 80 COVID-19 vaccines a day, up from 20 before the delta wave.

“God’s timing works for me,” she said. “We wouldn’t make it through without more people here.”

Others are not so lucky. A CVS Health store in the northeast of Indianapolis closed its pharmacy midway through Thursday afternoon due to staffing issues. A sign taped to the metal gate in front of the closed pharmacy also tells customers that the pharmacy will soon begin closing for half an hour each afternoon so the pharmacist can take a lunch break.

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

All pharmacies need a minimum of staff to operate safely, and they sometimes have to close temporarily if they drop below that.

Burns said many pharmacies with relatively thin staffing are preparing for the pandemic, and a wave of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have left after the virus hit.

“There is a lot of stress and burnout for people who have been going through this phase since March 2020.

CVS Health spokesman TJ Crawford said he could not comment on a store’s situation. But he said his company’s continued “management through workforce shortages is not unique to CVS Health.”

Spokesman Fraser Engerman said rival drugstore chain Walgreens has also adjusted pharmacy hours “in a limited number of stores”.

Both companies are hiring. CVS Health says it has hired 23,000 people since the push began in September. About half of them are pharmacy technicians who can deliver vaccines.

As companies scramble to hire or keep employees, Burns and Tolle worry about 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. That will have to be made clear, especially if cases rise again and pharmacies need to add more workers to help.

“We want to be able to help our community,” she said. “I don’t know how pharmacies will manage it.”

Sherri Brown, a city worker in Omaha, Nebraska, was looking for a booster dose, but two nearby pharmacies didn’t have an appointment and a third didn’t have the brand she wanted. She was shot at a county-run clinic on Friday.

“I just wanted to protect myself,” Brown said. “I guess I’m encouraged to see that people are taking this more seriously.”

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