Op-Ed: Why NJ should use independent pharmacies in its COVID-19 vaccination program

‘Using independent pharmacies will bring our state to our goal of 70% of adults vaccinated even faster’
Brian Oliveira

New Jersey is inching closer to its goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by summer. Already, 16% of New Jerseyans 18 and older are fully vaccinated, and over 4 million have received at least one shot at one of the more than 700 vaccination locations in New Jersey.

Vaccinations continue to accelerate as more supply comes to the state and more populations become eligible, including those 55 years and older beginning April 5. But, despite the uptick in inoculations, new cases are rising. Gov. Phil Murphy put it best: We are in “a foot race” between getting more residents vaccinated and case numbers rising.

Recently, New Jersey’s own Johnson & Johnson and Merck announced that they would be working together to increase manufacturing capacity of the single-shot vaccine. Other manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna are also honing their own methods to ramp up production. Because of these efforts, President Biden believes there will be enough vaccine doses to reach the goal of inoculating 70% of the eligible adult U.S. population by the end of May. With this significant increase in supply coming, we need to prepare, ensuring that we have the right infrastructure in place to turn vaccines into vaccinations — and quickly.

Having enough administration sites available and overcoming hesitancy will be critical to getting vaccines in New Jerseyan’s arms as soon after President Biden’s May benchmark as possible. And engaging more community pharmacies in the process is the only way to do so.

The federal government and New Jersey have started to allow certain pharmacies to administer vaccines, but it’s not enough. 

Trusted part of health care

Independent pharmacies are a key part of health care in every community throughout our state. In fact, with most Americans living within five miles of a pharmacy, we are accessible and trusted providers for many patients. Pharmacists are trained professionals and each year, they are the primary administrators of flu vaccines, from Bergen and Hunterdon counties all the way to Salem and Cumberland counties, efficiently and safely inoculating communities. Why should we be treating the COVID-19 vaccine any differently?

Not only would making vaccines available at independent and community pharmacies give patients greater access to doses and limit backlogs at mega-sites and vaccination points of dispensing (POD), but it would help to address the hesitancy issues that remains a threat to herd immunity. Independent pharmacists aren’t just health providers with decades of experience. They are trusted within communities; they are neighbors and friends; and they will help to instill confidence in the most vulnerable and hesitant among us.

Beyond the direct patient impact, community pharmacies also have long-standing relationships across the supply chain, ensuring an efficient and successful rollout process. Notably, pharmacies work daily alongside health care distributors — the same critical logistics experts that are already coordinating the delivery of all COVID-19 vaccines, vaccine kits, therapies, and treatments to New Jersey as well as states nationwide. Working directly with the federal government and manufacturers, distributors know better than any industry how to navigate the complex and demanding landscape of vaccine distribution and administration.

In our race to beat the rising cases, the state government should be using all of its available resources. Including independent pharmacies more in the fight against COVID-19 will give us more administration sites all across the state and will help combat vaccine hesitancy by giving New Jerseyans a trusted face to administer their vaccine. With the help of health care distributors, vaccines can reach our pharmacies safely and efficiently.

Using independent pharmacies will bring our state to our goal of 70% of adults vaccinated even faster, ensuring that lives are saved and we can get back to normal.