Despite confusing rollout, pharmacists confident they can deliver vaccine shots
Owners of independent pharmacies said Tuesday they are confident they can inoculate thousands of Long Island residents in the coming weeks with a COVID-19 vaccine — despite the confusing rollout this week.
Tom D’Angelo, who runs home infusion pharmacy Americare in Garden City and Franklin Square Pharmacy in Franklin Square, said he is slated to receive 600 doses later this week and is busy hiring per diem workers who are certified to administer vaccinations. Staffers will receive their vaccinations first, and he plans to start the shots at the Garden City site by early next week.
"The pharmacies are happy they are able to contribute," said D’Angelo, president of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York. "They will adapt and figure it out."
Independent pharmacies will play a key role in the state’s efforts to boost vaccination rates. State officials said they receive only about 300,000 doses of vaccine a week from the federal government, but millions of New Yorkers are eligible to get vaccinated under current guidelines.
D'Angelo said he believes pharmacies will receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which does not have the subzero storage requirements of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The Moderna doses can be refrigerated in units already used to store other vaccines.
Shipments will arrive from the state via UPS and other ground transport in refrigerated containers. D’Angelo said he can only request the number of doses he can administer in seven days.
"I think we can do 100 to 150 vaccinations a day if we have four people doing vaccinations," he said.
D'Angelo said he will be taking appointments by phone until he can set up another system. People directed to his facility through the state's website will be given a phone number.
Howard Jacobson, who owns Rockville Centre Pharmacy, said he received his first batch of about 100 doses on Tuesday.
"We won't start making appointments until Wednesday, and appointments need to be made through our website," Jacobson said. "We will begin administering the vaccine on Thursday."
Jacobson said he received the vaccines after going through a certification process with the state, which included filling out forms about storage capabilities. D’Angelo said he went through the same process.
"We know there is tremendous interest in this," Jacobson said. "Regular patients and doctors can't get through to us, because our phones are jammed with people calling to ask if we have the vaccine. I've missed 11 calls on my cellphone since we started talking."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday said he wants pharmacies to focus on vaccinating the general public. Currently, only members of the general public 65 years of age or older, as part of the 1b group, can receive the vaccine.
Priority groups eligible for vaccination include health care workers, first responders, teachers and transit workers, along with others.
Nidhin Mohan, owner of New Island Pharmacy in Deer Park, said he was waiting to hear when he would get the vaccine. He requested 500 doses from the state.
Once the vaccine is delivered, he will open up appointments on the New Island Pharmacy website.
Mohan added that he asked the state for permission to use a second, ancillary location to vaccinate the public. The location, at a vacant former doctor's office in Deer Park, "would allow me to vaccinate more people."
But the deluge of phone calls and inquiries about the vaccine was too much for Michael Nastro, owner of Fairview Pharmacy in Port Jefferson Station, who said Tuesday he was dropping out of the vaccination program.
"We’re just getting crushed here," Nastro said. "We just don’t have the resources. We’re not a vaccination center. We’re a pharmacy."
Nastro said his phone system crashed, leaving doctors unable to call in prescriptions, and customers unable to communicate with the pharmacy, he said.
He will administer the 200 doses already on order, he said, but after that does not want to continue.
"The volume of calls and the volume of demand for this program far exceeds anything we can provide," Nastro said. "I don’t see it getting any better. There’s just too many people looking to get vaccinated."
As a small mom-and-pop pharmacy, Nastro said, he has some critical accounts that help keep him afloat amid competition from the big chains.
"If I lose one of those accounts, my business will go down the tubes," he said.
With Bart Jones