Sixteen months into the climb, our nation has before it the ultimate challenge related to COVID-19: instilling sufficient vaccine confidence to reach the summit of full pandemic recovery. The pharmacies and pharmacists that have helped Americans throughout the grueling journey remain crucial for this culminating stage of the effort.
To help confront COVID, pharmacies stepped up across the country to support their communities. They have stayed open to meet patients’ needs from the pandemic’s earliest days. They ramped up testing and helped to prevent a feared “twindemic” with flu shots. Through months of COVID-19 vaccination planning and investment and since Day One of getting shots to arms, pharmacies have applied experience and expertise to vaccinate efficiently, conveniently and equitably.
The work is far from over. Pharmacies remain all-in to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of 70 percent of the adult population receiving at least one vaccine shot by July 4, and to help execute the recently announced National Month of Action in support of that objective.
Much has been said about pharmacies’ accessibility and convenience that bring to bear significant advantages. At least one of the country’s 56,000 pharmacies – national and regional chains and independents alike – is located within five miles of 90 percent of Americans, according to National Association of Chain Drug Stores estimates based on data of IQVIA and the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs. Our nation now has abundant vaccine supply, and many pharmacies now offer walk-in vaccinations without appointments.
Yet beyond pharmacies’ footprint, another advantage – of particular importance now – is the public’s long-standing mindset toward them. A Morning Consult survey commissioned by NACDS in August 2020 – well before COVID-19 vaccines received emergency use authorization and were deployed – found that 74 percent of U.S. adults trust pharmacists to provide COVID-19 vaccinations. Further, at least 65 percent of each geographic, racial and political demographic indicated such trust.
Today, pharmacies big and small are collaborating with local houses of worship, mayors, local television personalities, shelters, schools, civic groups and others to foster pivotal conversations that can make a difference.
The reliance on pharmacists as trusted messengers and health care destinations is not new. They have served in this role during natural disasters, the H1N1 pandemic of a decade ago, and annual flu-vaccination initiatives. They were recognized as vital partners in the rollout of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit and the Affordable Care Act.
Research shows that, when given the chance, pharmacists are effective in helping patients better manage their health and wellness. Pharmacies can increase uptake across various vaccinations, improve strep throat and flu treatment, foster correct medication use, prevent hospital re-admissions, encourage self-care like checking blood sugar numbers and increase screening and treatment referral for hepatitis C, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other conditions.
There are more similarities than one might think between assisting individuals with acute or chronic care and fostering COVID vaccine confidence. People resist care for reasons that can be highly personal and highly complex. Local and personalized relationships – such as those offered at the local pharmacy – are a key to addressing barriers.
Pharmacies and pharmacists are there to help guide Americans on topics related to COVID-19 vaccinations. They can answer questions, bust myths, talk through hesitancies, clarify options and generally serve as one of the most trusted resources for one of the most important health and wellness decisions of this moment in time.
Right now, we need to reach the summit in our nation’s recovery from COVID-19. Along the way, Americans weighing their decision should know they can turn to their local pharmacy and pharmacist for the science, the support and ultimately for the shot.
Colleen Lindholz is president of Kroger Health, The Kroger Co., and serves as chair of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
Brian Nightengale is president of Good Neighbor Pharmacy, and serves as vice chair of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
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