When Hometown Pharmacy began administering the COVID-19 vaccine mid-March, pharmacist Kim Shumaker said she was “running around chasing down available vaccines” to meet patient demand.
But now, Shumaker told the Observer the problem for the 815 N. Main St. business has flip-flopped, as there are more shots available than people signed up to receive them.
Pharmacies and clinics across the nation are seeing a downward trend in vaccine demand, so health providers are strategizing ways to reach patients who either don’t have the resources to access a shot, or are averse to being immunized altogether.
Shumaker said the outreach efforts are important, as the alternative means more people falling ill with COVID-19 and potential variants of the disease.
Despite the decrease in patients wanting shots, Dane County continues to be a leader in vaccinating eligible people. The state’s Department of Health Services data as of Wednesday, May 5, indicates that 46.5% of Dane County residents are fully vaccinated. That’s compared to the state’s full vaccination rate of 35.3%, according to the dataset.
The dataset states that white people make up 33.5% of the state percentage of vaccinated residents, while 14.9% are Black, 20.8% are American Indian and 26.1% are of Asian descent. Women make up 39.1% of those who are fully vaccinated, while men are around 31%.
In order to reach more patients, Hometown Pharmacy has so far facilitated three on-site clinics for employees at All-Color Powder Coating, 298 N. Burr Oak Ave., printing company Thysse, 780 Cusick Parkway, and construction business Trachte, 422 N. Burr Oak Ave.
The pharmacy, Shumaker said, has also placed a sandwich board on the street indicating shots are available. Staff have also been making posts about vaccines on Facebook, along with calling patients who have shown interest in getting inoculated.
Back in March, Hometown had 4,000 people on a waitlist to receive a vaccine. However, a lot of those patients have not responded to Hometown’s request to schedule an appointment.
The Observer also contacted Walgreens, 704 N. Main St., for comment on its outreach efforts.
A spokesperson told the Observer in an email April 21 that its trained immunizers have administered more than 11 million COVID-19 vaccines in stores nationwide and through dedicated clinics since the first vaccines were approved in December.
As of Friday, April 30, Hometown has administered 793 doses of Pfizer, 40 doses of Moderna and 100 doses of Janssen’s Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Shumaker said.
Reaching that number has come with challenges, however, she said, even with outreach efforts.
With the downturn in individuals scheduling shot appointments, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that pharmacists prepare a vial that may contain five or six doses, even if only one dose is scheduled and the others are likely to go to waste.
“I saw that recommendation, it made me feel better about not filling all the spots, but I’m still going to try,” Shumaker said. “I’d rather see that one person get it, but hate to see the wasted doses.”
While Hometown has received more Pfizer doses than others, it still has all three vaccines available, in the hope that by giving people more choices, more people will get vaccinated.
The Janssen or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which temporarily was paused due to rare cases of causing blood clots, is now being provided again – but the wording in the emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration now reflects the chance of those symptoms, Shumaker said. That gives both providers and recipients more information about the risk of clots.
And despite the pause, some people still prefer Johnson & Johnson, she said, because it only requires one dose compared to other shot brands.
But Shumaker said she is concerned for the future of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly one that’s fueled by decreasing vaccine demand and disease variants that continue to spread.
Because Shumaker said unvaccinated individuals pose a significant challenge to the immunization process.
“My biggest concern is with people still unvaccinated and the virus still widely circulating – chances of variants are increasing, and the vaccine may not protect us,” she said. “We will be back where we were last March – all these efforts will be negated if the virus has mutated.”