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Even if every individual community pharmacy knows they are capable of administering the COVID-19 vaccine, this fact gets drowned out without the power of a collective voice.
Independent pharmacies have substantial value to bring to the table, but in order to make this known at the federal level and be able to compete with national chains, there has to be a way for all these individual pharmacies to join forces.
“If I was at my own pharmacy, I couldn’t just go to the CDC and say I want the vaccine. You have to have an agreement with somebody, either a state or federal pharmacy partner,” explains Cody Clifton who, in addition to his role at CPESN, is a practicing pharmacist and PioneerRx pharmacy software user.
Pharmacy networks and organizations such as the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network (CPESN) advocate on behalf of independent pharmacies and provide them with the tools and resources they need to be successful.
Specifically with the COVID-19 vaccine, NCPA and CPESN have been integral in activating independent pharmacies and educating government officials on their unique strengths and capabilities.
For NCPA, an early step in this process was building a database of immunization contacts to share with the CDC in order to make it easier for them to call on independent pharmacies within their state.
“As the vaccine became imminent, it was clear to us that the immunization managers at the state health departments, the CMS and the CDC needed a way to engage independent pharmacies collectively, not just one by one. We needed to make it easier to do business with independent pharmacies,” says Kurt Proctor.
They also explained ways that independents function differently – such as the fact that they are not owned by their PSAOs, creating a need for different contracts than the chains have.
State health departments across the country have had varying levels of experience working with community pharmacies, so NCPA and CPESN have been working to fill the gaps and make sure everyone is familiar with how independent pharmacies function.
There were some states that already had experience with their local pharmacies and knew how they could help, so they utilized them early on.
One example of this is West Virginia achieving high vaccination rates after deciding to partner with local pharmacies instead of chains.
All of the efforts to raise awareness were starting to show promise.
“We were very pleased when the federal retail partner program was announced, and independent pharmacies were right there [in the headlines], fully in the mix. That was very important to us that it’s not just the big chains that are constantly being called out,” says Proctor. “And then, of course, it came time to implement.”
Pharmacies everywhere are prepared and ready to mobilize as soon as they are called on for COVID vaccination. Yet, the roadblock continues to be a limited supply of vaccine doses.
“We have barely scratched the surface on the capacity to deliver the vaccine,” stresses Proctor. “There’s no shortage of capacity. There’s just a shortage of vaccines.”
A huge part of deploying this vaccine are the logistics of distributing it. This is where federal pharmacy partners step in to help facilitate where the vaccine doses should go.
“You can’t activate 50,000 pharmacies all at one time, because then the vaccine supply depletes greatly,” Cody Clifton explains.
In his role as the CPESN lead for the federal pharmacy partnership, he analyzes data to determine how to proportionally allocate doses of vaccine in a more strategic way. Clifton reaches out to local CPESN pharmacy leaders to see who is a good fit based on their town’s demographics and based on their capability to successfully administer all the doses on time.
This process is also influenced by the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), a metric that the CDC is using to help determine vaccine allocation.
Unlike some mass vaccination clinics that have been going on, community pharmacies are able to specifically target the people who need the vaccine most and prioritize people based on SVI factors such as socioeconomic status, household composition, minority status, or housing type and transportation.
“Our pharmacies are really focused on the socially vulnerable population, and making sure all the people within their communities that are in the appropriate phases are vaccinated,” says Clifton.
The deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine continues to adapt and improve, and both CPESN and NCPA are actively assisting in every way possible.
“The number of pharmacies involved is growing and expanding,” adds Proctor. “And we’ll reach a point where supply is much healthier and most pharmacies that want to be participating will be able to participate. Everybody’s anxious to take care of their community, which is a good thing.”
So what can independent pharmacies do to help?
It comes down to this: stay vigilant and stay informed of what is going on in your state.
Independent pharmacies need to build relationships with their local health departments and make sure their local health officials know that they are ready, capable, and willing to help. Interact with pharmacy organizations in your state and follow their guidance to implement best practices at your pharmacy.
NCPA and CPESN have both been highly active in keeping their pharmacies informed and setting them up for success. From the beginning, they have been providing legislative updates, informational guides, ongoing webinars, and other timely resources.
You can find some of these listed below, along with PioneerRx resources.
An information-packed website that is constantly updated with everything from infrastructure building and clinical resources, to implementation best practices and billing guides for Covid-19 vaccination. The Billing page also features the PioneerRx-specific guide for billing within your PioneerRx pharmacy software.
A resource page focused on all things vaccine: authorized vaccines, allocation & distribution, storage & handling, billing & reimbursement, vaccine safety, training requirements, and more. You’ll also find a form where pharmacies can submit any systemic issues they encounter during the billing process.
Take a mental break and read heartwarming, inspirational stories of indepdendent pharmacies that are truly making a difference.
Find the latest pharmacy-related COVID-19 updates, along with links to step-by-step certification guides for administering vaccinations and POC testing at your independent pharmacy.
This pandemic has shined a light on independent pharmacies and opened them up to future opportunities, proving that they have so much more to offer when it comes to public health.
“This is going to [make an impact] on our health departments that haven’t really been utilizing and thinking about pharmacies as part of their health care infrastructure, and are now awakening to that reality,” Kurt Proctor stresses. “It will pay off not only during Covid vaccination – but in the long term as well.”