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US drugstores face squeeze from virus demand, staff shortages

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A sign posted outside a CVS pharmacy in Indianapolis. (photo via AP)

A surge in the number of people seeking vaccines as well as staff shortages are squeezing drugstores across the United States.

Some drugstores have closed temporarily and those open are busy having to deal with a growing number of customers which has left their workers frazzled.

With President Joe Biden urging vaccinated Americans to get booster shots to fight the emerging omicron variant, pharmacists are doling out a growing number of COVID-19 shots and giving coronavirus tests.

According to the White House, more than two in three COVID-19 vaccinations are happening at local pharmacies.

Meanwhile, pharmacists are concerned that another job might soon be added to their to-do list. They say if regulators approve antiviral pills from drugmakers Merck and Pfizer to treat COVID-19, they may be able to diagnose infections and then prescribe pills to customers.

“There’s crazy increased demand on pharmacies right now,” said Theresa Tolle, an independent pharmacist who has seen COVID-19 vaccine demand quadruple since the summer at her store in Sebastian, Florida.

Pharmacists say demand for COVID-19 vaccines began rising over the summer when the delta variant was spreading rapidly. And booster shots and the expansion of vaccine eligibility to include children have since stoked it.

Pharmacists have also gotten busier because, apart from their workload and routine prescriptions, they have been asked to counsel patients more generally on their health or about chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

In addition, pharmacies have also been handling more phone calls from customers with questions about vaccines or COVID-19 tests, according to Justin Wilson, who owns three independent pharmacies in Oklahoma.

“We’re all working a lot harder than we did before, but we’re doing everything we can to take care of people,” Wilson said.

Tolle said her Bay Street Pharmacy is now giving nearly 80 COVID-19 vaccines a day, up from 20 before the delta wave hit.

“God’s timing worked out well for me,” she said. “We would not have gotten through without having that additional person here.”

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