Large numbers of vaccine customers and a shortage of staff are putting pressure on pharmacies across the United States, leading to employee burnout and temporary pharmacy closings.
Pharmacies tend to be busier at this time of year from flu vaccines, among others, but now pharmacists distribute a larger quantity of COVID-19 vaccines and test for coronavirus.
Demand for vaccines is anticipated to rise further as President Joe Biden urges vaccinated Americans to don the booster to combat the omicron variant. On Thursday, the White House said that more than two out of every three COVID-19 vaccines are administered at local pharmacies.RELATED
And pharmacists worry they will add another task to their to-do list: If regulators approve antiviral pills from drug companies Merck and Pfizer to treat COVID-19, pharmacists will be able to diagnose infections and then prescribe the pills to customers.
“Currently, there is a huge increase in demand in pharmacies,” said Theresa Tolle, an independent pharmacist who has seen demand for the COVID-19 vaccine quadruple since the summer at her store in Sebastian, Florida.
Pharmacists say demand for the COVID-19 vaccine started to rise during the summer when the delta variant spread rapidly. Since then, booster shots and expanding vaccine eligibility to include children have contributed.
In addition to that workload and routine prescriptions, many pharmacies also ask pharmacists to advise patients more generally about their health or chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
Pharmacies have also taken more phone calls from customers with questions about COVID-19 vaccines or testing, said Justin Wilson, owner of three independent pharmacies in Oklahoma.
“We all work a lot more than before, but we do everything we can to serve people,” Wilson said, adding that, thus far, he has not had to temporarily close or limit hours.