Local pharmacist advocates for greater coronavirus vaccine access
CHEROKEE COUNTY, Kan. – Baxter Springs resident Yoly Gayoso felt a wave of relief on Wednesday after a single prick.
“I didn’t even feel it. He’s good,” says Gayoso.
She got her first dose of Moderna coronavirus vaccine at Wolkar Drug in Baxter Springs, which is her regular pharmacy for prescriptions and over the counter medications.
“I was thinking of going to Columbus (to the health department) to get it done, but this is just a few minutes from home. So this is really convenient,” explains Gayoso.
But at this time last week Wolkar Drug didn’t have any doses. The pharmacy didn’t receive any doses until February 25th when they received a small shipment from the Federal Pharmacy Partnership. On the 26th, they received another small allocation from the Cherokee County Health Department. Most of those were used by the end of the following weekend. Then on March 3rd, they received 200 doses — half of which were the Johnson and Johnson single dose vaccine.
In total, the pharmacy has received 430 doses. Caswell expects to run through their current supply again by the end of the week.
“Right out of the bat when we thought the distribution of the vaccines needed to come to the people, rather than the people coming to the vaccine, we thought that community pharmacy was the best access,” says Brian Caswell, Owner of Wolkar Drug and President of the National Community Pharmacy Association.
So Caswell purchased the necessary equipment and made sure his staff was trained and certified to administer the vaccines. But it wasn’t until months later that they saw their hard work come to fruition.
“There was a lot of pent up frustration during those days getting ramped up. Being ready, and just not having the vaccine,” explains Caswell.
It was always the plan at the state and federal level for the vaccine to be sent to large chain pharmacies, like Walmart and Walgreens, as well as community pharmacies across the country as supply became available.
In February, it was announced that Walmart, CVS and Walgreens would start offering covid-19 vaccines at their retail locations. In Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, Walmart Pharmacy is the only large chain provider. But vaccines have just started trickling in at community pharmacies. Something Caswell wishes had started sooner.
“We get vaccines all year round, and so this is nothing new. It’s just a matter of, you have to have the right vaccine, in this case the COVID-19 vaccine, in order to implement the inoculation, immunization of our citizens,” says Caswell. “There’s story after story of community pharmacies, that once they got the vaccine, they got them out there pretty quickly.”
Now, that doesn’t mean vaccines haven’t been coming to Cherokee County. Public Information Officer David Groves says the health department has used more than two thousand doses so far. That doesn’t include the Community Health Clinic of Southeast Kansas, where vaccines are being given as well.
But, Groves does think that if community pharmacies had been given access to vaccines at the same time they did, the number of people given vaccines would be much higher.
“They know the people in our community, they have relationships with them. There’s really no need at all for them not to be able to administer the vaccine,” says Groves. “It matters to the people that are trying to get the vaccine because the more providers, the sooner we can move into phase three and the sooner we can hopefully get through this pandemic.”
“Now that we’ve got them in, we’re rolling them out. We’re glad to have that opportunity,” says Caswell. “We would like to the state and to the feds to say if we can get more, we can get more people in and out the door.”
As the president of the National Community Pharmacy Association, Caswell tells us that some pharmacies in southeast Kansas are just now getting their first shipments — one in Pittsburg as recently as March 3rd — even though they have been prepared for a while.
That can also present a different challenge. The pharmacies — depending on the county they’re in — are now so far behind that many of the people on their waiting lists have already been vaccinated by the health department or another healthcare provider. So they plan to start asking the state to move into phase three so that vaccine doses don’t go to waste.