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As local health leaders work to open more mass coronavirus vaccination centers for the public this month, some independent pharmacies are speaking out, saying they’ve been ready to serve in the region’s rollout plan but are being left behind.
Richard Ost, the longtime owner of the Philadelphia Pharmacy near Front and Lehigh streets in Kensington, told NBC10 he’s constantly being asked by customers if his store has the vaccine available.
“They can’t get around easy,” Ost said. “The services aren’t as readily available and they don’t want to take a bus or train downtown and wait in line at a mass vaccination clinic.”
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Ost said he’s asked the city for some doses.
“The Black and brown Hispanic community and people living below the poverty line, if you look in those areas that’s where community pharmacies are really strong,” Ost said. “Why not put it right there in walking distance of the store?”
James Garrow, director of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, told NBC10 they're in the process of getting distribution data into a reasonable format.
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"Currently, two independent pharmacies are formally enrolled," Garrow said. "Fifteen are in the process of verifying reporting and cold storage as well as working to check to make sure they can securely transmit vaccine administration data. An additional 25 have submitted enrollments but they have not been processed yet."
Ost told NBC10 he installed the required computer software four months ago and spent $1,000 on a special refrigerator to hold the vaccine.
“It’s been sitting here almost six months,” Ost said. “We’re using it for insulin now but we’re prepared. We’re ready to rock and roll.”
In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the demand for a vaccine still outweighs the supply.
“Every week we say, ‘Please send us more,’” Nikoleta Tzaferos of Medi-Link RX Care in Hammonton, New Jersey, told NBC10.
Medi-Link has received doses from New Jersey. When the federal government announced this week that it would send more doses to pharmacies, Tzaferos was elated -- until she spoke with her state contacts.
“They advised us that the program is only for Rite Aid and CVS,” she said.
Kim Wilson of Collingswood, New Jersey, received her first shot on Thursday at Medi-Link. She had been registered with the state and the first available appointment she could get was in July. She told NBC10 getting vaccinated was like hitting the lottery.
“You can go and see somebody you’re used to going to,” Wilson said. “You get your flu shot from the pharmacist. Why not the vaccine also?”
Both Ost and Tzaferos cited West Virginia as an example of a state that’s had a successful vaccine rollout plan so far, largely due to getting doses to pharmacies, particularly in outlying areas.
“Hammonton is more of a rural area,” Tzaferos said. “People don’t want to drive an hour away. They want to come to us.”
Garrow told NBC10 they know the critical role independent pharmacies play in vaccine distribution and they’re working to get more up and running.