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What happens when some pharmacies have more COVID-19 vaccine than arms to put it in?

An Elk River pharmacist proposes changing how doses are manufactured, "I think we’re past the point of mass vaccination clinics."

The Minnesota Department of Health is reporting 54% of people statewide have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Local pharmacists are playing a big part in its distribution. But what happens when they have more vaccine than arms to put it in?

For example, the MDH vaccine dashboard shows 34% of people have gotten their first vaccine dose in Sherburne County. That's down sometimes as much as 10% compared to neighboring counties. Anoka and Wright Counties are reporting 44%, while Hennepin County is reporting 61%. Benton County is reporting 32%. 

Elk River pharmacist Nicole Sikorski noticed the difference too. 

"Now it seems to be that vaccine is readily available, so we've had a lot of cancellations, a lot of no shows," said Sikorski, who is the lead pharmacist at Goodrich Pharmacy. 

A waitlist once in the thousands at Goodrich Pharmacy is now so low, Sikorski is considering canceling any future doses from the federal government. 

"We're told we can not waste vaccine, so if we have the vaccine and we accept the vaccine, we need to find arms to put it into," explained Sikorksi. 

The decrease in demand though may be unique. Just a couple blocks away, at Kemper Pharmacy, hundreds of people are still on a waitlist. That pharmacy is getting 100 doses delivered a week. Unlike at Goodrich, patients need to make an appointment and can expect at least a two week wait. 

"It's interesting to me that two pharmacies so close together could be seeing such different trends," said Kemper pharmacist Deborah Leedahl.

Kemper Pharmacy is on a main highway, with more advertising. Leedahl says she was also part of a state pilot program that allowed her to start vaccinating people about a month sooner than other local pharmacies.

"It will be interesting to see once we’re at the end of the vaccine period if Sherburne County continues to be low and if it was just lack of interest," said Leedahl.

The one thing the two pharmacies do have in common, some vaccine hesitancy. And it could play a part in the county's lower vaccination rate.

"I think to get to those vaccine hesitant people, we're going to need to see a shift in how the vaccine is administered," said Sikorski.

She wants manufacturers to start making single-dose vaccines instead of vials containing multiple doses. Sometimes a vial can have five to six doses in it. Sikorksi believes that, coupled with continued education, could combat hesitancy.

"If I have someone walk in, I can have that conversation and give them a vaccine," she said. "That’s a win and then I don’t waste."

For now, Goodrich Pharmacy does have doses available. Sikorksi says you have to make an appointment and she only allows walk-ins if she has extra doses due to cancellations or no-shows.

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