Community pharmacies see opportunity, challenges with COVID-19 vaccine rollout

As a community pharmacy located near predominately residential neighborhoods, customers there have a certain level of trust and would prefer to get their shots from Ghamraoui’s store as opposed to a chain pharmacy, he said.

But to meet that demand, he needs more doses, something he’s struggling with, he said.

“My question is, and it’s very rhetorical, why are you giving it down to the chains,” Ghamraoui said. “Whether it’s on the federal level or the state level, why would you prioritize a chain? Give the chains 1,000 (doses), but turn around and give the little pharmacy around the corner 100 (doses).”

Brettfeld, with the pharmacy in Grass Lake, also noted some frustration with broader distribution, saying that getting vaccine doses beyond the county level has amounted to a “futile effort.” At the same, she said she understands the distribution challenges.

“It’s no one’s fault,” Brettfeld said. “It’s just a supply-and-demand thing. If someone can do it bigger, better and faster than I can, that’s probably the best thing for the community.”

Large chain pharmacies such as Walgreens and Rite-Aid, as well as other vaccine locations including Kroger grocery stores and Walmart locations, have been getting most of their doses from the federal supply.

Data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shows that as of the middle of last week, pharmacies had been shipped 3,300 doses from the state’s supply. Pharmacies in Michigan have received more than 850,000 vaccine doses from the federal government, according to state data.

Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, a spokesperson for the Washtenaw County Health Department, acknowledged the frustration added by those working in the independent pharmacy space, saying the county hopes for added vaccine doses that can get to such locations.

“In general, we have not had enough vaccine to redistribute to local pharmacies or other providers willing to vaccinate,” Ringler-Cerniglia wrote in an email to Crain’s. “We did recently pilot test working with small, local pharmacies this way. Pharmacies were included if they responded to the invitation and agreed to use the doses in the allotted time, give them to eligible individuals, and follow proper handled/data entry. Importantly, we wanted to initiate this process in the hope that we’ll have increased vaccine supplies to redistribute more supplies in the coming weeks or months.”

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