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Pharmacies seek larger role in vaccination effort, DHS says supply is the problem

fitchburg vaccine

FITCHBURG (WKOW) -- Cars moved along the line outside Fitchburg Family Pharmacy Tuesday afternoon. Four days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., people arrive for their drive-up vaccination appointments.

Pharmacist Daniel Ricci said he believes retail pharmacies can handle more responsibility for getting the vaccine out to the public.

"There's no question that the more pharmacies, retail pharmacies that can become vaccinators and start receiving vaccine, the faster we'll be able to reach everyone," Ricci said.

Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said Tuesday the state wanted to involve more retail and independent pharmacies as vaccinators but said the supply Wisconsin currently receives from the federal government is not enough to meet the full demands of the state's current roster of vaccinators.

"That's where I think we have some work to do," Willems Van Dijk said. "To look at how we balance things out for them because we also know many of those smaller vaccinators are really critical in rural communities and we also know they're really critical in communities of color."

The Virginia-based Healthcare Distribution Alliance represents companies supplying vaccinators with supplies.

Matthew DiLoreto, the HDA's Vice President of State Government Affairs, said one takeaway he's developed from seeing the operations of most states is that those who have involved smaller vaccinators more quickly have been able to administer the vaccine more efficiently.

"The one thing we are hopeful is gonna help here is we are hearing a lot of discussion and there are a lot of ongoing discussions about allowing a wider variety of administration and vaccination sites," DiLoreto said.

DiLoreto cited West Virginia and Louisiana as examples of states with efficient vaccine rollouts thus far; he said a common theme was their willingness to make entities like chain pharmacies, independent pharmacies, and even the National Guard an integral part of their distribution and administration strategies.

"The states you are seeing be most successful are the ones that have really broken the mold and started utilizing a wider variety of providers early on," DiLoreto said.

CDC data on vaccine administration showed Wisconsin is still in the bottom third of states in the metric of doses distributed per 100,000 people. The state has made progress -- for much of January, it was among the bottom five states in the category.

Willems Van Dijk reiterated Tuesday the CDC's numbers lag the most recent figures. As of Tuesday evening, the CDC dashboard showed Wisconsin having administered about 522,000 doses while the DHS dashboard showed Wisconsin having administered more than 578,000 doses.

Ricci said the Fitchburg pharmacy was fortunate to have been receiving the amount of weekly doses for which it has asked.

He said the Family Pharmacy has booked vaccination appointments through the end of February; it's a tricky situation because vaccinators only learn how many doses they're getting one week at a time.

"As of right now, we haven't had any interruption in our supply and we've been able to vaccinate everyone completely," Ricci said. "So that feels really good but the future is unknown."

Ricci said the pharmacy was building toward a goal of getting 300 doses per week; 150 would go toward first shots, the other 150 for individuals' second shots three weeks after their first appointment.

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