U.S. pharmacies are squeezed by vaccine demand and staff shortages
A large shortage of customers and employees seeking vaccines is squeezing pharmacies across the United States, causing workers to become exhausted and pharmacies temporarily closed.
Pharmacies are usually busy with flu shots and other vaccines at this time of the year, but now pharmacists are distributing more and more COVID-19 vaccines and testing for coronavirus.
As President Joe Biden urges vaccinated Americans to receive booster shots against the emerging omicron variant, the push for injections is expected to become more intense. The White House said on Thursday that the local pharmacy is receiving more than two-thirds of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Pharmacists worry that another job may be added to their to-do list soon: if regulatory agencies approve drugmakers Merck and Pfizer’s antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19, pharmacists may be able to diagnose the infection, and then Prescribe medicine to customers.
“The demand for pharmacies is increasing wildly now,” said independent pharmacist Theresa Tolle. Since this summer, her store in Sebastian, Florida has seen demand for COVID-19 vaccines reverse. Repeatedly.
The pharmacist said that with the rapid spread of delta variants, the demand for COVID-19 vaccines began to pick up in the summer. Since then, enhanced injections and expanded vaccination eligibility (including children) have inspired it.
In addition to workload and regular prescriptions, many pharmacies also require pharmacists to provide more extensive consultations on patients’ health conditions or chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
Justin Wilson, who owns three independent pharmacies in Oklahoma, pointed out that pharmacies have also been dealing with more calls from customers asking questions about vaccines or COVID-19 testing.
Wilson said: “We are all working harder than before, but we are doing everything we can to take care of people,” he added that so far, he has not temporarily closed any pharmacies or restricted business hours.
Tolle said she was lucky to hire a pharmacy resident before the delta surge. New employees were supposed to focus mainly on diabetes projects, but to a large extent they were downgraded to vaccine work.
Tolle said her Bay Street pharmacy now provides about 80 COVID-19 vaccines every day, up from the 20 before Triangle Wave.
“The time God gave me is very good,” she said. “Without that extra person here, we would not pass.”
Others are not so lucky. Due to staffing issues, a CVS Health store on the northeast side of Indianapolis closed its pharmacy in the middle of Thursday afternoon. The sign posted on the metal door of the closed pharmacy counter also tells customers that the pharmacy will soon begin to close for half an hour every afternoon so that pharmacists can have lunch breaks.
Anne Burns, vice president of the American Association of Pharmacists, said that during the entire pandemic, such temporary closures have fluctuated in pockets across the country, but they have become more serious in recent months.
Pharmacies require minimal personnel to operate safely, and if they fall below these levels, they sometimes have to be temporarily closed.
Burns said that before the pandemic, the staffing of many pharmacies was relatively weak, and a wave of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians left after the virus outbreak.
She said: “For individuals who have been doing this work since March 2020, the stress and burnout are great.”
CVS Health spokesperson TJ Crawford said he could not comment on the situation at one store. But he said that his company will continue to “address labor shortages that are not unique to CVS Health.”
Spokesperson Fraser Engelman said that rival drugstore chain Walgreens has also adjusted its pharmacy business hours “in a limited number of stores.”
Both companies are hiring. CVS Health stated that it has hired 23,000 employees in an initiative that began in September. About half of them are pharmacy technicians who can provide vaccines.
As companies scramble to hire or retain employees, Burns and Toller worry about adding more responsibilities, such as diagnosing and treating COVID-19.
Tolle pointed out that it is not yet clear how the pharmacist’s time spent in diagnosis and prescribing will be reimbursed. This must be clarified, especially if the number of cases surges again and pharmacies need to add more workers to help.
“We hope to help our community,” she said. “I don’t know how the pharmacy will manage it.”
Shirley Brown, an urban employee in Omaha, Nebraska, was looking for a vaccine booster, but there were no appointments at two nearby pharmacies, and the third did not have the brand she wanted. On Friday, she finally got an injection at the county-run clinic.
“I just want to protect myself,” Brown said. Before the vaccination, she experienced two weeks of cough, headache and fatigue after contracting the virus in January. “I think I’m glad to see people take this matter more seriously.”