Community pharmacies are ready to vaccinate, but they aren’t receiving vaccines

By John McPhaul

Linda Ayala, the executive director of the Community Pharmacies Association, said Tuesday that community pharmacies stand ready to immunize Puerto Rico’s elderly population against COVID-19, but they are not receiving the necessary vaccines.

“Within the Phase 1B vaccination plan, in which more than a 100 community pharmacies would participate to inoculate patients 65 years of age or older, only 3,550 doses have reached 24 community pharmacies,” Ayala said. “Right now the doses have run out since they inoculated between January 12 and 21. We have extensive lists of patients who have made their appointment for inoculation. Pharmacies have invested in training and equipment to be able to comply with and support efforts to control this pandemic.”

She said community pharmacies have made themselves available to both the island Department of Health and the Puerto Rico National Guard to immunize residents of the 178 homes for the elderly throughout the island that chain pharmacies have not been ready to serve.

“We can [vaccinate] those 10,000 people over 65 quickly. We are ready and trained for this task,” Ayala said. “We reiterate our call that they include us and provide us with the necessary vaccines to complete the first and second doses.”

Some 24 pharmacies have begun to inoculate clients since last week, and in the coming weeks it is assumed that more than 100 community pharmacies will be incorporated after having already completed the contracting process with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and certification with the Health Department, to join the inoculation effort.

“We have been preparing ourselves and our pharmacies,” Ayala said. “Pharmacists are ready to contribute to immunizing the population according to the different programmed phases. It is important that they take us into account in all aspects.”

Community pharmacies have extensive experience inoculating patients against various conditions, particularly influenza, and patients are used to using their inoculation services. Additionally, several community pharmacies are certified under the federal Vaccines for Adults and Vaccines for Children program, and some are vaccine collection centers.

Pharmacists were included in Phase 1A of the vaccination campaign as health professionals. There are about 850 community pharmacies in Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities.