ST. LOUIS — Jean Antoine Sr., former mayor and city council member in Olivette, asked about COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday at his local Walgreens in Creve Coeur and got a frustrating answer.
“They have vaccine but are waiting on the state officials to set the schedule,” Antoine, 75, said in a public post on Facebook. “So, it’s just sitting in refrigerators instead of going into the arms of people in need.”
Reached by phone, Antoine said he was told the pharmacies have the doses, just not the authorization to administer them to eligible Missourians.
Walgreens and CVS, in a partnership with the federal government, have been part of a nationwide plan to deliver vaccinations to residents and staff in long-term care facilities.
As part of the plan, states estimate how many doses they would need for their facilities and allocate that amount to the pharmacies.
But allocations have been off, a Walgreens spokeswoman acknowledged in an email to the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday.
“In many cases, they overestimated the number of doses needed due to fluctuations in occupancy levels and the impact of vaccine hesitancy,” the statement read.
While some states have begun letting pharmacies administer the extra vaccine immediately from their pharmacy locations, Missouri wants to take unused doses from pharmacies and distribute them to mass vaccination sites coordinated by the state.
Kelli Jones, the spokeswoman for Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, told the Post-Dispatch Tuesday night the administration is looking at diverting 25,000 doses from CVS and Walgreens.
“We asked for 25,000 back already and are asking for more,” Jones said. “We are frustrated by slow pace of the federal pharmacy partnership and have been told by the federal government that we can take unused doses back and distribute them to our state-enrolled vaccinators.”
Jones did not respond to questions Wednesday about whether Missouri officials considered letting pharmacies vaccinate eligible residents from their locations across the state rather than taking time and staff to redistribute it.
Antoine said he and his wife, also 75, have registered with their health department and several health systems in an effort to get a COVID-19 vaccine but have yet to get an appointment. He doesn’t understand why doses would be taken from pharmacies.
“Not when there are eligible recipients that are local to that pharmacy,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense moving it around.”
NBC News reported earlier this month that several states such as New York and Louisiana have started allowing pharmacies to provide doses to high-priority groups. Rite-Aid and supermarkets with pharmacies such as Publix and Kroger are vaccinating residents in California, Texas, Florida, Delaware and New Jersey.
Illinois health officials announced Tuesday the state is partnering with over 100 Hy-Vee, Walgreens and Jewel-Osco locations to provide vaccination appointments to eligible residents.
Illinois expects to add additional pharmacies “over the next few days” and eventually “provide hundreds of sites in every region of the state.”
CVS began offering COVID-19 vaccine appointments this week in a few states, and Walgreens now provides appointments for COVID-19 vaccines to eligible residents in 12 states and Puerto Rico.
Walgreens’ statement to the Post-Dispatch in response to questions about distribution in Missouri further read:
“In states or jurisdictions where the number of vaccines needed for the Long-Term Care Program is trending lower than what facilities initially requested, we are working with states and jurisdictions to determine how they would like to re-allocate those vaccines, which may include expanding vaccinations to additional prioritized individuals in our stores or returning the vaccine to the state to administer according to their needs. We are working hand-in-hand with states to achieve the shared goal of vaccinating our most vulnerable populations as quickly as possible.”
CVS and Walgreens publicly report their progress in vaccinating long-term care facilities as part of the federal partnership. Together, they are holding three clinics in over 1,200 facilities in Missouri to administer the two-dose vaccine.
The effort began on Dec. 28, and in just one month, the pharmacies have held at least once clinic in all of the skilled nursing facilities and most of the assisted-living facilities they have partnerships with in the state, their websites show. Together, they have administered a total of nearly 64,500 doses in Missouri.
‘Five thousand doses versus 640,000 doses needed,’ said Ave. ‘That is the No. 1 issue, no questions about it.’