NAPERVILLE, Ill. (January 14, 2021)—Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is underway across the country, starting with frontline health care workers and those over the age of 65 (or 75 in some areas) or with underlying conditions. Although the rollout in some areas has been slow, hampered by storage issues and political obstacles, community pharmacies are gearing up to help vaccinate the masses. 

Oswald’s Pharmacy, a 145-year-old family-owned business in Naperville, Illinois, is just one of the many pharmacies that has signed an agreement with the federal government to provide the vaccine. CVS and Walgreens are also part of the rollout effort—but in rural areas, independent pharmacies will be key. 

Hannah Bors, Oswald’s pharmacy manager, expects demand for the vaccine to outpace demand for the flu shot—which is at a record high this year. According to a December survey from the Pew Research Center, 60% of Americans plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Our pharmacy has done almost triple the number of flu shots this past year compared to last season,” Bors told HomeCare. “I think if those numbers are any indication, I’m expecting that we will have a very high demand for the [COVID-19] vaccine.” 

The federal agreement Oswald’s signed includes the equipment needed to administer the vaccine, Bors said. The company has been advised not to purchase the deep freezer needed to keep the Pfizer vaccine stable, but is still waiting for more information.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has outlined phases for vaccine distribution, and the general public may not be able to access the vaccine until spring. There have been reports of people “line jumping” to try and get ahead of the rollout. Bors said they have already had customers ask to be placed on a waiting list. 

Dealing with the demand requires Oswald’s to get creative—but, said owner Alex Anderson, the pharmacy created a sign-up page for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and plans to implement something similar for vaccinations.

“We were doing about 35 (non-COVID) shots on our busiest days while not taking appointments, so I am confident that we would be able to easily manage at least 50 shots in a day using an appointment-based model,” said Bors.

The federal government is also allowing certified pharmacy technicians to become vaccine certified to help with demand. Oswald’s is looking to take full advantage of this.

“We’re hoping to have at least three of our techs certified by the time we have a regular supply of the vaccine,” said Anderson.

The Power of Community
Community pharmacies play an important role in their communities, providing what can be a more personal role in a person’s health care. This can help in times of crisis, when pharmacies take some of the pressure of primary care practices. 

“Pharmacists are one of the most easily-accessed health care professionals,” said Bors. “It is often much easier (and sometimes less expensive) to get an immunization at a pharmacy than it is at a doctor’s office. Pharmacies also generally have longer opening hours than a doctor’s office or clinic would.” 

In addition, she said, her patients may see her more often than they visit their doctor. 

“Patients also see their pharmacist every three months to multiple times in a month, and they may only see their doctor once a year,” Bors said. “We generally have more time to talk with patients than a doctor might, and we are able to promote vaccinations, especially amongst high-risk groups or those who don’t have the resources to visit or talk with their doctor.”

There’s a benefit for the pharmacy as well. Through their vaccination efforts, Anderson said, Oswald’s gets to introduce new customers to its 5,000 square feet of retail medical supplies, including lift chairs and mobility scooters. 

“We not only get to show off our superior level of service compared to your average chain pharmacy—we’re also reminding the community that we’re a health care destination, not just a place to pick up pills,” he said. “As an independent pharmacy, our customers are so much more than just metrics to appease shareholders.”