Independent Minnesota pharmacies wait for direction for COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Minnesota is off to a slow start in administering the COVID-19 vaccine compared to other states, as the state has only used 37 percent of its COVID-19 vaccine. 

John Hoeschen, a local pharmacist and owner of St. Paul Corner Drug, said he’s ready to help the state vaccinate more people during the Phase 1 rollout, placing health care workers and long-term care residents at the top of the list. 

However, he said he can’t because he hasn’t heard back from the state. 

"What concerns me is that we currently have vaccine available that’s not being utilized," said Hoeschen. "I’ve received no information as to what our role may be, and when, or some sort of time frame."

He said what’s even more concerning is he’s not sure when he and his staff of 25 essential workers will be vaccinated.

"If we’re going to be vaccinating, we need to get vaccinated," he added. "We don’t know where to get vaccinated nor has anything been sent to us."

Large pharmacies companies like CVS and Walgreens partnered up with the federal government to vaccinate residents at long-term care facilities. 

But the National Community Pharmacists Association said local pharmacies are key in helping states get the vaccine out faster.  

"If you go back to states where the allocation and distribution and administration of vaccine is working pretty well, right now it’s the states that have engaged independent community pharmacists," said John Beckner, senior director of strategic initiatives at the National Community Pharmacists Association. 

A statement to Fox 9 from the Minnesota Department of Health reads: 

"We have included pharmacies and their associations in our general planning for vaccine distribution. We have not contacted independent pharmacies about vaccine yet because there is not a role for them at this time. Pharmacies in the metro area are not vaccinating in long-term care facilities.

"Pharmacists and their staff will be eligible for vaccine when we get to Tier 3 of Phase 1A, but we are currently still vaccinating in Tier 1 and part of Tier 2. We will not be in Tier 3 until the end of January.

"The state's Board of Pharmacy will be communicating with pharmacies when it is time for them to receive vaccine.  We are always happy to answer questions from stakeholders about Minnesota’s vaccine distribution plans. We do not have a record of any inquiries from these pharmacies."