Area pharmacies in need of more staff amid vaccine rollout at long-term care facilities

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens in the Milwaukee area are ramping up hiring to meet Wisconsin’s needs to immunize staff and residents at long-term care facilities. The need for more vaccinators is just one barrier pharmacies and health officials are working on to successfully carry out the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program.

The program, by Wisconsin’s Dept. of Health Services, has two parts. Part A was launched on Dec. 28 and on Friday, Jan. 15 Governor Tony Evers activated Part B, which will provide vaccines to remaining facilities beginning Jan. 25.

“Pharmacists take this role in the pandemic, and bringing us out of the pandemic, really seriously,” said Sarah Sorum, CEO of Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin DHS says as of Thursday, Jan. 14, 261 out of 361 eligible Part A nursing facilities have received first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The program will require a total of 140,000 doses for Part B.

“That program requires states to have vaccine banked before day one of vaccinations so our vaccine team has coordinated that launch date to ensure that that requirement was met,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Data show at least 4.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were allocated to the Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Walgreens and CVS as of Thursday. According to the CDC, less than 1.4 million, or a little more than a quarter, have been administered in the U.S. as of Friday.  

In a 50 to 100 mile radius from Milwaukee, nearly 200 pharmacist and pharmacy tech job openings could be found on CVS and Walgreens’ websites combined.

“A number of my colleagues that have other full-time jobs have decided they want to be part of the effort and have signed up for part-time employment to be able to help with the immunizing effort,” added Sorum.

To help speed up the process, Sorum says she’s meeting weekly with the Nursing Home Association, CVS, Walgreens and DHS to troubleshoot issues like vaccine hesitancy and consent for some residents.

“We’ve done some things as a state and our organization that has led, to try and lift some administrative barriers, for example-- enabling technicians to play a role,” Sorum said.

Sorum says another 375 pharmacies have also enrolled as vaccine providers outside of the federal partnership.

“We also know that there’s going to be a need to engage other pharmacies around the state in supporting the effort as well, and CVS and Walgreens has welcomed that. We are all one profession,” added Sorum.

“All the ongoing work of the vaccine team at DHS and vaccinators across the state is what’s strengthening our response,” said Willems Van Dijk.

Wisconsin DHS says at the current rate, they expect all participating facilities to complete the first vaccination by Monday, Jan. 18.

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