Independent pharmacies look to help with vaccinations effort

PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — Small independent pharmacies are looking to help with the COVID-19 vaccination effort and could add significant capacity. 

Advanced Health Pharmacy in Portage is a short drive from the Pfizer plant that’s manufacturing a COVID-19 vaccine, but it has yet to receive a vial. The pharmacy owned by Arun Tandon registered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2020 to administer shots.  

“We were told that we would let you know when the vaccine would be available for you and we have not received any notification about that process,” Tandon said. 

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services notified the pharmacy on Wednesday about a program looking for pharmacists to go into underserved communities and provide vaccination clinics. 

Tandon is working on the application process and is looking for community partners. He says independent pharmacies are a largely untapped resource across the country. 

“We can do 300 vaccines a day,” Tandon said.  

The pharmacist says the modest estimate could likely be scaled up even more.   

He recently spoke with a pharmacist working for major national chain who told him they do not have the staff to get the vaccines out more quickly.  

“They got 100 vaccines, but they are only allowed to do 20 vaccines a day, 20 vaccines a day would not do anything. It’s better than zero, but if you give me 100 vaccines, they will be gone … in four hours,” Tandon said. 

He says his pharmacy has more staff working at a given time that are authorized to administer shots than the big retail pharmacies. 

“They don’t have enough pharmacists. They don’t have enough vaccinators. Right now, I have three pharmacists here. I have two interns, so we have five people,” Tandon said. 

Advanced Health Pharmacy opened a COVID-19 testing area in the same shopping center in the beginning of the pandemic and with the demand for testing dropping, the space could be converted for vaccinations.  

“The biggest chain of pharmacies in the United States is independent pharmacies,” Tandon said.  

The state of West Virginia started utilizing independent pharmacies at the beginning of the vaccine rollout and were able to outperform other states.

“The population needs to be patient and government needs to be hasty … opening more channels of distribution so that we can get to each and every person who needs and deserves the vaccine as soon as possible,” Tandon said.