With the need for COVID-19 testing and vaccination remaining high, pharmacies and clinics are continuing to feel the strain. You may have noticed that scheduling an appointment, or the wait times for laboratory results are longer than usual. Short-staffed facilities, overwhelming demand, and supply chain issues are all components affecting the delays. Last week, two announcements were made that may usher in even more delays for pharmacies and clinics.
On December 2nd, the White House issued a press release stating that all adults who have completed their initial series of COVID-19 vaccines over six months ago are now eligible to receive boosters. With concerns about the delta and omicron variants as we head into the winter months, this decision was made in effort to combat a potential surge in COVID-19 cases. According to a White House press release, “Nationwide, more than two in three COVID-19 vaccinations are already happening at local pharmacies.” Now that boosters are available and children over 5 can be vaccinated, the demand on pharmacies is only expected to grow.
Additionally, an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended the authorization of a new antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 on November 30th. Merck and Ridgeback, the manufacturers of the antiviral, have requested an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the drug. If the FDA agrees with the panel's recommendation and it is authorized, molnupiravir would be the first at-home medication available to treat mild to moderate COVID-19. The pill would need to be taken within three to five days after symptoms begin, must be ordered by a primary healthcare provider, and then filled by a pharmacist.
Much like many other industries, pharmacies and clinics are already in the midst of a staffing shortage. Increased vaccine eligibility and emerging variants, in conjunction with the possibility of antivirals, may not bode well for the already strained pharmacies and clinics. The Biden administration advised that, “Federal pharmacy partners will continue to expand access by adding capacity across their network to meet the needs of their local communities.” Although the administration has mentioned that federal pharmacy partners will have extended hours to accommodate vaccinations, an exact plan has not been laid out and we may continue to experience delays for appointments and medical results for some time.