SC pharmacies play role in increasing access, confidence for COVID-19 vaccine

SC pharmacies play role in increasing access, confidence for COVID-19 vaccine

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - DHEC’s vaccine locator shows hundreds of sites across the state are now activated to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, but many rural areas still have far fewer sites than South Carolina’s urban cities.

Pharmacies have become a central vaccine provider for more rural areas across the state.

Chains including CVS, Publix, Walmart and Walgreens have been providing COVID-19 vaccinations across South Carolina through the Federal Retail Pharmacy program, while independent pharmacies have also rolled out vaccination programs.

Pharmacy technicians at Grove Park Pharmacy in Orangeburg County said they’ve been waiting to begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine for months.

The technicians said that pharmacies, like the Grove Park Pharmacy, provide not only a convenient location for many in rural areas to get the vaccine, but also a familiar face the customer trusts to administer the vaccine. From picking up a medication to stopping by for everyday items, Grove Park Pharmacy technicians said they see many of their customers multiple times a month.

“Because we know our patients, our patients are family,” Mikaela Johnson, a Grove Park Pharmacy Technician and Certified Immunizer, said.

Grove Park Pharmacy technicians said it’s this connection that is helping overcome the vaccine hesitancy they’ve been seeing in their community.

“Having it (the COVID-19 vaccine) in the local pharmacies is huge,” Courtney Polin, a Grove Park Pharmacy Technician and Certified Immunizer, said. “People really trust the local pharmacies, so they are way more apt to get it because we have it.”

Johnson said they applied to DHEC to administer the vaccine months ago, but it took months for their site to be activated.

“We had to wait and wait and wait,” Johnson said.

However, last Friday the waiting was finally over, with the pharmacy receiving its first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine just in time for the state’s phase 1b rollout.

“We all just rejoiced because we had so many patients who had been calling and wanting to get vaccinated and really just had nowhere to go,” Johnson said.

Johnson said they received 300 doses of the vaccine and every dose went into the arms of patients during their first week of vaccinations. She said she believes the pharmacy is capable of vaccinating 700 to 800 people a week if the pharmacy was receiving a greater supply.

Both Johnson and Polin stressed that local pharmacies like Grove Park are critical for reducing hesitancy, but also providing a convenient place for Orangeburg residents to receive the vaccine.

“We’ve had so many people be able to come out and get the vaccine, who wouldn’t be able to go to Charleston, Columbia, or the big cities like that,” Polin said.

They said many patients have been excited to get what they’re calling the “one and done” vaccine, because the J&J vaccine only requires one dose.

“It’s been a life changer for several people who have been cooped up for a year,” Polin said.

Other pharmacies have continued to expand their vaccination efforts across the state.

CVS announced it will expand its vaccination efforts beginning as early as Sunday, March 14 by adding 21 additional vaccine locations across the state.

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