An immediate and focused change to the State of New Jersey's COVID19 Vaccination Plan is desperately needed.
In the thirty years as a practicing pharmacist in New Jersey, I have never witnessed a disorganized disaster like the COVID19 vaccine distribution. As owner of Bayshore Pharmacy in Atlantic Highlands, my patients are confused, angry, and scared. Elderly patients and families that rely on public information regularly turn to me for healthcare advice and counselling. When asked about their vaccination, I can only share they would be able to be vaccinated “soon” and to continue to click refresh on the State’s Scheduling Service in vain.
The Federal COVID19 Vaccine Distribution plan was to use the existing vaccination network of pharmacies, clinics, and physicians to get the vaccine to as many patients as quickly as possible. In order to avoid the natural predilection of government to micromanage, the States were placed in charge of the first wave of distribution.
New Jersey opted to distribute the vaccine through a disjointed patchwork of corporate sponsors and political contributors, namely CVS, Walgreens, Visiting Nurses Association, and County Health Departments among others. Rather than to include the allotment of vaccines to well-prepared and trained independent pharmacies who can accommodate the influx of patients in a socially distanced manner, the plan was modified to focus on large centers that terrify my patients who have been isolating for the last year. Elderly patients cannot and will not travel to these “mega” sites for fear of contact.
We have been informed by the State Department of Health that we may receive vaccines if there is ample supply remaining after the mega sites have received their distributions. What about my patients? Let’s look at other states that decided against reinventing the wheel to vaccinate at high rates. West Virginia has been a gold standard for vaccine distribution. Every nursing home patient was vaccinated before the end of 2020. Similar to the flu vaccine, patients simply make an appointment at their local pharmacy to be vaccinated, arrive, receive their shot, and go back home. It cannot be more simple or more effective.
In 1947, a gentleman arrived in New York Harbor and was hospitalized with smallpox. In less than a month, 6 million New Yorkers were vaccinated against the disease. It can be done. It should be done. Let us do it together.
Richard P. Stryker, R.Ph.
Owner, Bayshore Pharmacy