Large numbers of vaccine customers and staff shortages are putting pressure on pharmacies in the US, leading to staff burnout and temporary pharmacy closings.
Pharmacies are usually busy with flu vaccines, among other things, at this time of year, but now pharmacists are handing out a larger amount of COVID-19 vaccines and testing for coronavirus.
The demand for vaccines is expected to continue to grow as President Joe Biden urges Americans who have been vaccinated to get the booster vaccinations to combat the Omicron variant. On Thursday, the White House announced that more than two out of three COVID-19 vaccines are being given in local pharmacies.
And pharmacists fear they’ll add one more task to their to-do list: if regulators approve antiviral pills from drug companies Merck and Pfizer to treat COVID-19, pharmacists can diagnose infections and then prescribe the pills to customers.
“Demand in pharmacies is growing tremendously right now,” said Theresa Tolle, an independent pharmacist who has seen demand for the COVID-19 vaccine quadruple at her store in Sebastian, Florida since the summer.
Pharmacists say demand for the COVID-19 vaccine began to surge in the summer when the Delta variant spread rapidly. Since then, booster vaccinations and the extension of vaccination eligibility to children have contributed to this.
In addition to this workload and routine prescribing, many pharmacies are asking pharmacists to provide more general advice to patients about their health or chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Pharmacies have also received more calls from customers with questions about COVID-19 vaccines or tests, said Justin Wilson, owner of three independent pharmacies in Oklahoma.
“We’re all working a lot harder than before, but we’re doing everything we can to serve the people,” said Wilson, adding that he hasn’t had to temporarily close or restrict opening hours.