When a pressing medical issue arises, who do we turn to for help? Our health care providers. For many Arkansans, particularly in rural areas of the state, that means local pharmacists.
According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, nearly 95 percent of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy. For decades now, these licensed professionals have served as the go-to resource for any, and all, of our health care-related concerns. This heavy reliance on pharmacists is partly because of their convenience and accessibility. But, perhaps as importantly, it’s also due to their long-standing relationships within our communities.
Today, we’re seeing how many state governments, including here in Arkansas, are leveraging this strong trust between patient and pharmacist to help combat residents’ seemingly ever-growing wariness over COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
In early January, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson facilitated what has been hailed as a “historic” public-private partnership that designated community pharmacies as the lead distributors of the COVID-19 vaccine. Since then, the Arkansas Pharmacists Association (APA) says more than 600 pharmacies, in nearly every county of our state, have signed up to participate. With it, the New York Times reports Arkansas has jumped to 14 in the nation for the percentage of our population with patients who have completed both doses of the vaccine.
As we wrap up vaccinations for those in Phase 1A and begin outreach to individuals designated in Phase 1B, local pharmacists are confronted with an additional, yet urgent challenge: a lack of supplies. Hundreds of thousands of Arkansans have been added to the state’s vaccine eligibility list. But there simply aren’t enough shots available to meet need or demand.
In fact, the APA recently noted, “The COVID-19 vaccine is only arriving in Arkansas in very limited quantities for an average of 500 doses per county.” At that rate, the APA states only one in 12 individuals in Phase 1B, which includes educators and those 70 years or older, will be able to receive a vaccination each week. If left unaddressed, these supply issues will significantly slow down our state’s overall vaccination efforts.
Fortunately, there’s hope on the horizon. The federal government has pledged to boost vaccine production and distribution. At the same time, Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Coronavirus Task Force member and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has indicated that he expects additional vaccines to receive federal approval soon.
COVID-19 vaccines may be in short supply, at least for now. But Arkansas pharmacists’ dedication to our patients is not. We remain committed to safely and successfully executing our state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, no matter the timeline.
Editor’s note: Galen Perkins is CEO of Express Rx, a Little Rock-based pharmaceutical retailer with 30 store locations in eight states across the Southeast, and the former vice president of pharmacy services for USA Drug. The opinions expressed are those of the author.