As the Covid vaccine rollout continues to push forward, a few states are seeing significantly higher vaccination rates than others. In the contiguous United States, West Virginia is leading the way in the percentage of doses they have already administered. They have mobilized a system that is so effective, their main problem is that they need more doses to distribute. Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, told the NY Times that he estimates West Virginia has the capacity to handle 125,000 doses a week but they are currently only getting 23,600. “It’s not like it’s a cake walk, but we have efficiency,” he said.
So what’s their secret? How are they able to move at such a faster rate than most other states?
One key difference in West Virginia’s strategy is that they chose to opt-out of the federal program partnering with CVS and Walgreens to vaccine long term care facilities. Chain pharmacies are not as common in West Virginia – they have a greater presence of small independent pharmacies in rural communities, so this federal program was not going to work for them. This decision to mobilize local pharmacies gave West Virginia a headstart early on and it has continued to prove successful. We are also seeing other states – such as Maine – starting to look toward mobilizing their independent pharmacies and shifting away some responsibility from CVS and Walgreens.
Right from the beginning, West Virginia was prepared. They matched their community pharmacies with LTC facilities they would be partnering with and were ready to go with an actionable plan as soon as the vaccine began distribution. The state began vaccinating in LTC facilities nearly two weeks before anyone else had started, and they have already completed their first round and are now administering second doses as well as moving to other populations. Since West Virginia chose to use its own independent pharmacies, the state is directly in control of the flow of vaccine distribution and there is no bureaucracy of huge chains that they have to navigate around. Community pharmacies are nimble and flexible, making it easier to cooperate, communicate, and implement a plan of action.
“The state is really shining a light on how Independents and LTC working together can offer a superior solution,” says Kraig McEwen, CEO of RedSail Technologies. RedSail is a leader in healthcare technology that recently acquired PioneerRx to form one of the largest pharmacy networks in the country. At this time, approximately 60% of all independent pharmacies and LTC facilities in West Virginia are part of the RedSail network. This network scale opens the door for collaboration with government officials and state boards to ensure that all pharmacies and LTC facilities in the state have the resources they need to continue safely and effectively vaccinating their communities.
Another way that West Virginia is staying ahead of the game is through their new pre-registration website. The system, called Everbridge, was built to handle the statewide waitlist for the vaccine and create an easier way to register besides just calling on the phone. Residents were dialing endlessly, being put on hold, and trying to get their name on the list – so this new online system is a way to reduce the congestion of phone lines and make it simpler for residents to pre-register. Once someone puts their name on the list, the system sends them regular updates on their waitlist status and can notify them either through text, email, or phone call. As of Monday, January 25th, there were already more than 62,000 West Virginians signed up to be added to the pre-registration list. This new system aims to streamline the vaccination process by building an organized, convenient way to manage the high demand in the state.
While West Virginia is far ahead in the ‘race’ to vaccinate, it is not about being the best. It’s about getting other states on the same level and coordinating a strategy for the United States to move forward as a whole. Independent pharmacies are ready to take on the challenge and vaccinate their communities – they just need to be recognized by the government and given the opportunity to help. Pharmacies need fair reimbursement for administering the Covid-19 vaccine, so that they can properly allocate their resources and have the capacity to vaccinate more residents. By utilizing pharmacists, we can lift some stress off of the healthcare system away from doctors and nurses who are also having to focus their energy on treating sick Covid patients. As we see in West Virginia – the solution must include independent pharmacy.