Better way to reach rural areas

After what can only be classified as a disastrous start to Pennsylvania’s effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to the public, the state is finally getting its act together and climbing up the national rankings regarding the number of people vaccinated, shots administered per day and percentage of population that has been inoculated.

But if the commonwealth wants to cast as wide a net as possible, it needs to not overlook pharmacies in many rural communities as it appears to be doing with the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s recent decision to limit distribution to only the top 250 vaccine providers statewide.

We think that’s a mistake, one that could have grave consequences for those who happen to live in the wrong parts of Pennsylvania in the Health Department’s eyes.

And we’re not the only ones who think that.

“While mass vaccination sites are important to large communities and can supplement other community-based provider vaccination efforts, the reality is that many Pennsylvanians do not live in large communities, nor have the ability to reach some of these sites,” wrote the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association on Friday. “The Pennsylvania DOH must rethink their strategy and continually include community pharmacies in their efforts to provide COVID vaccine to all Pennsylvanians in all communities.”

Not only does this potentially make it more difficult for some to obtain the vaccine by giving them fewer viable options for getting one, it could also lead to more people who remain skeptical choosing to skip out on the shot entirely, either because it is too much of a hassle or because they can’t go to a pharmacist in their own community whom they trust.

Community pharmacies also help get the people most at-risk vaccinated faster. For many who are elderly or have health and/or mobility issues, traveling long distances just to make it to a mass vaccination site isn’t usually feasible. They need a place nearby or even someone willing to come to them in order to get vaccinated. In Warren County, Gaughn’s Drug Store partnered last week with the Department of Public Safety, Darling’s Home Care, lots of community medical and EMS volunteers, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, EmergyCare, Warren County Career Center Protective Services, and Dr. Keith Price for a clinic that administered 200 doses. Public safety officials said they are confident about 1,000 doses could be done in a day at a similar Warren-area clinic if the county were to get enough doses.

Additionally, it appears that many pharmacists across Pennsylvania are ready, willing and able to administer more shots than they have been, they just need the supply to make it happen.

We have nothing against mass vaccination sites. They are absolutely a positive as they will help quickly increase the number of people who are protected against COVID-19, thereby limiting its spread. But the mass vaccination sites are not the be all, end all and their existence should not and cannot come at the expense of local pharmacies, especially with Gov. Tom Wolf saying he expects to meet President Joe Biden’s challenge of making everyone in Pennsylvania age 16 and older eligible for a vaccine by May 1.

Demand already outpaces supply. Unless there is a lot higher supply by then, once May 1 rolls around, that problem will worsen exponentially.

To get more people vaccinated in less time, they need more choices on how to get a shot, not fewer. Pennsylvania needs to reconsider its plan to include one of its best assets — the trusted people who live and work right here in our communities who are ready, willing and able to help us finally break free from COVID-19’s death grip.

We hope the state health department will realize that and change its plan to include these vital individuals.


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