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W.Va. state officials say locally-owned pharmacies key in vaccination rollout

Published: Jan. 18, 2021 at 10:24 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Nationally, West Virginia has been receiving accolades for its vaccine rollout plan. The Associated Press reports it is largely thanks to the state not limiting doses to only federal pharmacy chains.

“If we went with just the Federal Pharmacy Program (FPP), which limited you to two pharmacy providers, that would not probably be in the best interest of West Virginia,” said Retired Major General James Hoyer.

CVS and Walgreens are the two pharmacies included in the FPP. Gen. Hoyer says the state is still including the two pharmacies in their rollout plan but decided to also include locally-owned pharmacies.

“We know that local assisted-living facilities have partnerships with local pharmacies,” Gen. Hoyer told WSAZ. “So the people that serve them already, it made sense to bring them in.”

The Associated Press reports more shots have gone into people’s arms per capita across West Virginia than in any other state. Federal data also shows that at least 7.5 percent of the population in the state have received their first dose of the vaccine.

Governor Jim Justice created a COVID-19 vaccine rollout task force called, West Virginia Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF). The JIATF is made up of different people who represent different agencies across the state.

“Local health departments, emergency management folks, the federally qualified health clinics, the hospitals, pharmacies, the VOAD folks, the board of pharmacy, all of these people are coming together under one umbrella and it’s all of those people, working at those levels, that are really a small group of West Virginians that are really making a difference for the rest of the people in the state,” Gen. Hoyer told WSAZ.

Gen. Hoyer says they were tasked by Gov. Justice to design the framework of how the state will handle vaccine distribution.

“We knew we needed to do something bold and different and that’s what (Gov. Justice) challenged us to do,” he said. “We think that’s been the key to our success so far.”

Krista Capehart represents the pharmacies in the JIATF, she says 45 percent of West Virginia pharmacies are locally owned which is why opening up the program was a major move to make.

“Fifty-five percent (of our pharmacies) are chains, so by opening our program up to all pharmacies in West Virginia, we were really able to make use of those pharmacies that are in our rural areas,” said Capehart.

Capehart also added that the JIATF utilized the time from when vaccinations were authorized to the time they first arrived in the state to create a plan and match-up the long-term care facilities with the pharmacies that were going to service them.

“Some of them already used those local pharmacies to provide those services and if they didn’t, we were able to identify someone close who could come in and provide all of their vaccinations so we were very easily able to match them up with a local service provider so when the vaccines were on the ground we were ready to go.”

She says the easy match-up was something the state would not have had if they had gone with only using chain pharmacies due to the delay of vaccines coming in.

“We knew that there was at least a two-week delay with the Federal Pharmacy Partnership (FPP),” said Capehart. “We (also) knew we had the relationships in West Virginia to utilize our local and our chains. We’ve talked a lot about our independents but we invited all pharmacies because, it’s truly about that pharmacist relationship whether they’re working in an independent or chain. People prefer to go to their pharmacist so we invited all of our pharmacies and week one it was primarily our intendents but week two we had several chains join us and really get the job done quickly and efficiently.”

Capehart says by the end of this week, all 214 long-term care facilities will have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, so they will all be completely vaccinated.

Gen. Hoyer says their main target right now is to ensure anyone who wants the vaccine, that is in the most vulnerable population, receives it.

“What we’re trying to do is have multiple outlets to get to people. We started out with 12 clinics, it went to 14, now to 17,” said Gen. Hoyer. “We think it’s going to go to 33 across the state and then 55. That will be overlaid with larger hospital clinics as well as primary care providers.”

Gen. Hoyer told WSAZ that right now their data is showing that 77.5 percent of deaths in the state are people over the age of 70; 14.5 percent of deaths are people age 60 to 70; and five percent are people age 50 to 60. He says the same group of people make up the bulk of hospitalizations which is why they want to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible.

“That’s what drove us to make this decision.”

Gen. Hoyer says right now, the state is using “every asset” they have to get shots to people as quickly and effectively as possible. Of the first doses the state has received, Gen. Hoyer says they’ve given out 98.4 percent of them. Now, they are hoping for more doses from the federal level and hoping to make more places available to hold clinics.

“The Governor and I were on multiple calls with the federal folks saying we need 110,000 vaccines a week, not 23,00. If we can get 110,000 a week we can really start to make an impact on hospitalizations and death rates in the state,” said Gen. Hoyer. “That puts us way ahead of everybody else in the country but as far as the Governor’s concerned and his leadership team is concerned, that’s OK but we’ve got to continue to improve what we’re going to do and sustain it overtime.”

The West Virginia National Guard said so far, 130,600 West Virginians have gotten their first shot with 23,092 of those people getting both.

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