LEE COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - There is just one major pharmacy retailer in Lee County.
In a shopping center in Bishopville is a CVS and three locally-owned pharmacies.
Lee County is a “pharmacy desert”, which could mean it could soon be a vaccine desert.
“Pharmacy deserts are areas where there is limited access to pharmacies,” University of South Carolina Assistant Professor of Rural and Minority Health Research Whitney Zahnd said.
Zahnd added the three non-chain pharmacies in Lee County at a disadvantage when it comes to vaccine distribution.
“And they are areas that have no connection to federal partnerships that are involved in the vaccination process,” she said.
That lack of a connection to the Department of Health and Human Services could mean these pharmacies have less access to the infrastructure and contracts necessary to vaccinate their customers.
Researchers at the University of South Carolina mapped out the pharmacy’s deserts in the state and found there are areas in a more difficult position than Lee County.
McCormick County has no HHS-connected pharmacies and Abbeville, Allendale, and Hampton have just one.
Bishopville resident Linda London is frustrated by lack of access in her community. London is older than 75 and spent hours on the phone with DHEC to arrange vaccine appointments for herself, her husband, and her brother.
London was only able to get vaccinated after arranging separate appointments for her and her husband each about 20 to 30 miles from their home.
“Something should be done better to get the vaccine out here to get to the people who need to have it,” she said.
London said that this is just one of the issues her community faces during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said many of her neighbors in her small town don’t have access to reliable transportation, know how to use the internet, or have access to a computer.
“Some people might say, ‘there are fewer people in rural areas,’ but there are also a number of individuals who are at high risk for severe disease in rural areas. When we think about the higher proportion of adults living in rural communities,” Zhand explained.
Thomas McCrary is one of London’s fellow Lee County residents without a computer.
“I haven’t heard nothing about the shot, and I have no way to get connected with it because you have to go onto the computer to get an appointment. If I was able to get an appointment by the phone, I would’ve called and gotten one,” McCrary said.
McCrary is 75-years-old and was born and raised in Bishopville. He has not been able to leave his house since last spring except to shop. He’s ready to get the vaccine but said he will wait until he drives to Florence to visit his physician and ask her how he can get the shot.
While a mobile vaccination center or a call line for appointments would’ve helped McCrary, it may not help others get vaccinated.
“Not having to drive to a strange place they are not familiar with and talk to someone who they don’t have a relationship that’s something you really have to think about,” UofSC College of Pharmacy Assistant Professor Tessa Hastings.
Hastings also said a pharmacist is one of a patient’s most trusted health care professionals, so patients may prefer getting injected by a familiar hand.
“[Patients might] want to ask questions and talk about this vaccine that everyone wants them to get but they want to make sure it’s right for them and talk to their pharmacist,” Hastings said.
Hastings said pharmacy deserts are not a new concept. It’s just another issue COVID-19 has brought to light.