UNITED STATES NEWS

US drugstores squeezed by vaccine demand, staff shortages

Dec 4, 2021, 8:00 PM

A rush of vaccine-seeking customers and staff shortages are squeezing drugstores around the U.S., leading to frazzled workers and temporary pharmacy closures.

Drugstores are normally busy this time of year with flu shots and other vaccines, but now pharmacists are doling out a growing number of COVID-19 shots and giving coronavirus tests.

The push for shots is expected to grow more intense as President Joe Biden urges vaccinated Americans to get booster shots to combat the emerging omicron variant. The White House said Thursday that more than two in three COVID-19 vaccinations are happening at local pharmacies.

And pharmacists worry another job might soon be added to their to-do list: If regulators approve antiviral pills from drugmakers Merck and Pfizer to treat COVID-19, pharmacists may be able to diagnose infections and then prescribe pills to customers.

“There’s crazy increased demand on pharmacies right now,” said Theresa Tolle, an independent pharmacist who has seen COVID-19 vaccine demand quadruple since the summer at her Sebastian, Florida, store.

Pharmacists say demand for COVID-19 vaccines started picking up over the summer as the delta variant spread rapidly. Booster shots and the expansion of vaccine eligibility to include children have since stoked it.

On top of that workload and routine prescriptions, many drugstores also have been asking pharmacists to counsel patients more generally on their health or about chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Pharmacies also have been handling more phone calls from customers with questions about vaccines or COVID-19 tests, noted Justin Wilson, who owns three independent pharmacies in Oklahoma.

“We’re all working a lot harder than we did before, but we’re doing everything we can to take care of people,” Wilson said, adding that he has not had to temporarily close any of his pharmacies or limit hours so far.

Tolle said she was lucky to hire a pharmacy resident just before the delta surge arrived. The new employee was supposed to focus mostly on diabetes programs but has largely been relegated to vaccine duty.

Tolle said her Bay Street Pharmacy is now giving about 80 COVID-19 vaccines a day, up from 20 before the delta wave.

“God’s timing worked out well for me,” she said. “We would not have gotten through without having that additional person here.”

Others haven’t been as fortunate. A CVS Health store on the northeast side of Indianapolis shuttered its pharmacy in the middle of the afternoon Thursday due to staffing issues. A sign taped to the metal gate over the closed pharmacy counter also told customers that the pharmacy will soon start closing for a half hour each afternoon so the pharmacist can have a lunch break.

Such temporary closures have ebbed and flowed in pockets around the country throughout the pandemic, but they have grown more acute in recent months, said Anne Burns, a vice president with the American Pharmacists Association.

Pharmacies all need minimum staffing to operate safely, and they sometimes have to close temporarily if they fall below those levels.

Burns said many pharmacies already had relatively thin staffing levels heading into the pandemic, and a wave of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians left after the virus hit.

“There is a lot of stress and burnout for individuals who have been going at this since March of 2020,” she said.

CVS Health spokesman T.J. Crawford said he couldn’t comment on the circumstances for one store. But he said his company continues “to manage through a workforce shortage that isn’t unique to CVS Health.”

Rival drugstore chain Walgreens also has adjusted pharmacy hours “in a limited number of stores,” spokesman Fraser Engerman said.

Both companies are hiring. CVS Health says it has hired 23,000 employees from a push it started in September. About half of that total was pharmacy technicians, who can deliver vaccines.

As companies scramble to hire or keep staff, Burns and Tolle worry about adding even more responsibilities like diagnosing and treating COVID-19.

Tolle noted that it is not clear yet how pharmacists will be reimbursed for the time they take to diagnose and prescribe. That will have to be clarified, especially if cases surge again and drugstores need to add even more workers to help.

“We want to be able to help our communities,” she said. “I don’t know how pharmacies are going to manage it.”

Sherri Brown, a city employee in Omaha, Nebraska, was searching for a vaccine booster dose, but two nearby pharmacies didn’t have appointments available and a third didn’t have the brand she wanted. She wound up getting a shot at a county-run clinic on Friday.

“I just wanted to protect myself,” said Brown, who suffered through two weeks of coughing, headaches and fatigue when she caught the virus in January, before she was vaccinated. “I guess I’m encouraged to see that people are taking this more seriously.”

___

Grant Schulte in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this story. Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/thpmurphy

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Lifetime Windows & Doors

United States News

Associated Press

Police: Explosion in southern Indiana injures at least 2

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Emergency crews are responding to an explosion involving at least one house that reverberated across a neighborhood in the southern Indiana city of Evansville, according to media reports. Evansville police said at least two people were injured in the explosion that occurred at about 1 p.m. Wednesday, though the severity of […]
13 hours ago
FILE - In this Sept. 10, 2017, photo, Miss North Dakota Cara Mund reacts after being named Miss Ame...
Associated Press

Ex-Miss America Mund: Abortion ruling prompted US House run

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Former Miss America Cara Mund said Wednesday that her concern about the erosion of abortion rights prompted her independent bid for the U.S. House in her home state of North Dakota. Mund, who is running against the odds in deeply conservative North Dakota, told The Associated Press that the U.S. Supreme […]
13 hours ago
FILE - Monkeypox vaccines are shown at the Salt Lake County Health Department Thursday, July 28, 20...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Can the spread of monkeypox be stopped?

LONDON (AP) — Since May, nearly 90 countries have reported more than 31,000 cases of monkeypox. The World Health Organization classified the escalating outbreak of the once-rare disease as an international emergency in July; the U.S. declared it a national emergency last week. Outside of Africa, 98% of cases are in men who have sex […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Man initially given life without parole in 2 murders freed

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana man convicted of the 1979 killing of his roommate and another friend is being released after 42 years in prison, his life sentence without possibility of parole recently commuted by a state board. The Louisiana Board of Pardons and Parole voted 2-1 on Monday to release David Chenevert, […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Michigan: Company released industrial chemicals into water

WIXOM, Mich. (AP) — Michigan environmental officials notified an an auto trim maker that it violated the law by releasing industrial chemicals into a river system northwest of Detroit. Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy says its Water Resources Division issued citations Tuesday to Tribar Manufacturing in Wixom for discharging a plating solution […]
13 hours ago
Follow @ktar923...
Sponsored Content by Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.

Sponsored Articles

...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
US drugstores squeezed by vaccine demand, staff shortages