Shortages of This at Pharmacies May Mean Longer Lines

Eat This Not That – by Michael Martin, October, 2021

Many Americans are feeling day-to-day consequences of the global supply chain issues caused by the COVID pandemic: Rising prices, delayed shipments, shortages of certain goods. Pharmacies have not been spared from the COVID-related crunch. In fact, news outlets throughout the country are reporting that one critical shortage is causing long lines at pharmacies nationwide.

The Critical Shortage Causing Delays

The shortage: People. The COVID pandemic has caused a nationwide staffing shortage, with many businesses struggling to find workers. Pharmacies are no exception.

In addition to filling prescriptions, pharmacy employees now are charged with administering COVID-19 tests and vaccinations. There aren’t enough people to handle the influx, resulting in longer wait times for prescriptions and vaccines, and reduced pharmacy hours. Some pharmacies have had to close temporarily because of staffing shortages.

“Around the country, pharmacy customers are finding themselves waiting longer for medications to be filled or pharmacy staff unavailable when they go for their flu or booster shots,” the Indianapolis Star reported on Friday. “Just as labor shortages are plaguing other industries, pharmacies are struggling to keep up with demand.”

A survey released last month by the National Community Pharmacists Association found that 80% of pharmacies nationwide were having trouble filling open positions.

COVID Has Drastically Expanded a Pharmacist’s Job

The additional workload caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening delays. “Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians all over the country are being asked to do more than ever before. They now perform COVID-19 tests and administer COVID-19 vaccines on top of everything else they’re expected to do,” the Star reported.

“We’re expected to get as many prescriptions done in a day as possible while also doing vaccines and also doing tests,” said Veronica Vernon, president elect for the Indiana Pharmacists Association and assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Butler University.

“To give a vaccine, whether it’s COVID or flu, is more time consuming than to fill an amoxicillin prescription, so there are certain spots in the pharmacy only the pharmacists can do,” pharmacist Ray Kadi told ABC 57 earlier this month. “A COVID vaccine can consume up to, let’s say, 10 minutes of the pharmacist’s time.”

It’s leading to cases of burnout and resignations—which is also being seen in health-related industries like nursing—exacerbating the stress for those left behind.

Too Much Demand, Not Enough Supply

Chains like Walgreens and CVS have tried to hire more employees and raise wages, but there’s only so much they can do, said Mike Johnston, CEO and founder of the National Pharmacy Technicians Association. “There’s not the supply available to meet the demand right now,” he told the Star. “The situation we’re in right now, there’s not enough money you can throw at this problem.”

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