As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to slowly become available to more of the public at-large, local pharmacies in Derby (and across the state) are preparing for their role in distribution – more a matter of when, not if, in the eyes of Damm Pharmacies owner Dared Price.
“For the most part, in the state of Kansas, the role of the pharmacies have been pretty minimal up to this point, but we’re hopeful for that to change soon,” Price said. “We’re really hoping to be able to get some vaccines soon. Our main goal, obviously, is to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.”
Being a member of the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Service Network, a group of independently owned pharmacies, Price’s stores (in Derby, Andover, Arkansas City, Rose Hill and Winfield) are part of the largest pharmacy chain in Kansas. In total, 95 percent of the state’s population is within 15 miles of a Kansas CPESN pharmacy.
Given that reach, those pharmacies are waiting for the call to get involved in the vaccination process – with CPESN helping them get the devices, policies and procedures in place to do so.
“We’ve really been working pretty hard on it for the last several months for when that day comes that we are 100 percent ready to jump in and start vaccinating people,” Price said.
During the wait to receive vaccines, all Damm Pharmacies locations have begun offering three different types of COVID testing (nasal swab, saliva and antibody) since the start of the new year. Saliva tests (by appointment, offered via drive-thru) are currently being offered at no charge.
Price noted he has hired extra personnel to help with the additional testing being offered and more staff is being trained to help with vaccinations, once available, as regulations have been expanded during the pandemic to allow technicians to vaccinate. Price noted almost all personnel at Damm Pharmacies locations have gone through the necessary training to be able to assist with that process.
Local pharmacies may be uncertain on the timeline of vaccine arrivals, but what is known is that will come from the county health departments – the point of contact for distribution.
“Currently, we’re working with our local health departments, in particular Butler County Health Department. We’re working with them to transfer some vaccine from their department to us so we can help them with the vaccine process,” Price said. “They’re the same as we are; they just want people to get it. If they can involve some partners that are used to doing vaccines, they want to do that, so we’re glad they reached out to us.”
Even chain pharmacies like Walgreens have noted that vaccine availability for individuals will be made known by a local health official or their employer.
While Walgreens is exploring options to administer vaccines through off-site clinics, stores and/or other locations, and taking recommended safety measures in order to help with immunizations, the pharmacy’s current role in Sedgwick County has been to help administer COVID vaccines solely to staff and residents at long-term care facilities.
Sedgwick County has moved into phase two of its vaccination plan – making shots available to county residents age 80 and older. While the state’s plan opens phase two to those age 65 and older, as well as high contact critical workers (first responders, teachers, grocery store workers, etc.) and those living/working in congregate settings, the county set its parameters based on limited vaccine availability. Currently, the county plans to receive 7,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine weekly for the foreseeable future.
As the rollout continues, the vaccine (to be given at no cost, though administration fees may apply) will become available to larger population groups, but qualifying criteria will continue to be set by the state and county. While Price noted Damm Pharmacies locations have consent forms and waiting lists available for the vaccine, he noted staff will handle the bulk of the scheduling as screening will need to be done to make sure the stores are vaccinating the correct people based on the current phase.
Considering the role pharmacies played in the expanded availability of flu shots, Price sees his stores and others being vital in getting the vaccine out to the public as the state continues to move through its phased plan.
“When you’re talking about processes that enable us to be able to vaccinate a lot of people fairly quickly, we already have those processes in place basically. That’s why we’re really excited to be able to get some vaccines and start helping people,” Price said. “Talk to your health care professionals, talk to your physicians, talk to your pharmacists about the benefits and risks of the vaccine, but I would strongly urge everyone to get the vaccine. The faster that we can do that as a community, the safer we’ll all be.”