Local pharmacies now among Rowan County locations with COVID-19 vaccines

Published 12:10 am Sunday, March 28, 2021

SALISBURY — As Rowan County Health Department workers and volunteers administered second doses of COVID-19 vaccines at West End Plaza on Wednesday, a more intimate clinic was taking place two miles away.

Standing under a small shelter at Moose Pharmacy on West Innes Street, Kyle Yoder and Cammie McMahan directed incoming cars to nearby parking spaces and gave people their COVID-19 shots from the comfort of their cars, with small baskets organized with vaccines, vaccination cards and supplies nearby. Yoder, who manages the Salisbury pharmacy, sees COVID-19 vaccinations as a natural part of services the store offers.

“We’ve given vaccines, flu shots, shingles vaccines, pneumonia vaccines,” he said. “We’ve also gone out into the community. So, we’ve helped vaccinate the school system, various schools around the area, to churches, different businesses. So, we were prepared and have experience mass vaccinating.”

For two pharmacies within shouting distance of each another — the Medicine Shoppe and Moose Pharmacy — previous vaccination experience is now being put to use to combat the global coronavirus pandemic. While pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS have offered vaccines for more than a month, the Medicine Shoppe and Moose Pharmacy have wrapped up their second week of vaccinating people for COVID-19.

Compared to drive-thru events or vaccination clinics in basketball gyms, pulling into the parking lot of a local pharmacy is a more familiar experience, Yoder said.

“I think people are used to going to their pharmacy for various stuff, and it probably is simpler for them,” he said.

Both the Medicine Shoppe and Moose Pharmacy direct people to their websites to book appointments, but staff members can also take phone calls to input information for people who don’t have a computer or have trouble navigating the internet. The two pharmacies are filling a gap that other methods are missing.

“I’m getting people that couldn’t handle the computer websites or, if they could, they couldn’t wait for the time required,” said Teresa Casmus, who manages the Medicine Shoppe in Salisbury. “I’m seeing some people that, for whatever reason, literally were not able to get a vaccine before … Everybody is in a different spot.”

For both businesses, there’s been a long wait to get to their current point. Training started in January, and both received their first allocations in mid-March through the state. Yoder said Moose Pharmacy is able to scale up to mass vaccination events as needed. On March 20 and March 21, it held mass vaccination clinics in Concord and Locust. Casmus said she can’t be a mass immunizer, but that’s OK with her.

“Outside the confines of the pharmacy, I felt like I needed dark sunglasses because I wasn’t able to give people any guidance, but I’m so thankful to now be a part and making a difference in my own small way,” Casmus said.

Yoder says Moose Pharmacy received approval to participate in a federal program and will no longer receive a state allocation. When she spoke to the Post, Casmus was still waiting for federal approval. Receiving that will mean a much easier data entry process for the Medicine Shoppe, which currently has to input data up to five times — twice for the state, once into the pharmacy’s own software, once for billing and once for people who are not insured.

The vaccines come at no cost to the pharmacy. They are free for patients, too. For Yoder and Casmus, the costs come in labor to administer the vaccine, which is why people with insurance are asked to bring their cards with them. People without insurance are not billed.

Interim Rowan Health Director Alyssa Harris sees the addition of Moose Pharmacy and the Medicine Shoppe as good for the county.

“The more providers we have, the more vaccine is actually coming into Rowan County,” Harris said.

So far, 25,259 Rowan County residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, which is 17.8% of the population, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Of those, 16,687 (11.7%) have been fully vaccinated, which requires a second shot for the Pfizer and Moderna varieties.

The first dose percentage is among the worst of the state’s 100 counties. Harris says the culprit is a lack of supply coming into Rowan County. She’s optimistic the supply shortage will change because the Rowan County Health Department has demonstrated a capacity to administer more vaccines than it’s receiving now.

“I do feel like Rowan has been slow, and it’s not because we’re doing less work. It’s because of less supply,” Harris said. “As soon as we showed (the state) we had greater capacity for first and second doses, they immediately upped our doses.”

While the Rowan County Health Department previously received a few hundred vaccines per week, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services last week provided 1,170 vaccines.

The Rowan County Health Department mostly has administered Moderna vaccines. Harris expects to receive Johnson & Johnson in the next few weeks, which will increase the percentage of fully vaccinated people more quickly because it only requires one shot.

People currently eligible to receive vaccines in North Carolina include health care workers, long-term care staff and residents, anyone older than 65, frontline essential workers and anyone with a medical condition that puts them at a higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19. All essential workers become eligible on Wednesday. All adults can receive a vaccine starting April 7, which will remove any confusion about who’s eligible, Harris said.

Harris says she expects 50% or 60% of Rowan County residents will be vaccinated before the number stalls and the number of people volunteering to be vaccinated will slow. Then, health care workers will begin outreach work and organize targeted events.

“What’s important is that everyone gets vaccinated because everyone plays a part in herd immunity,” Harris said.

For more information about vaccines from Moose Pharmacy, visit moosepharmacy.com or contact the Salisbury location at 704-636-6340. The Medicine Shoppe of Salisbury’s website is medicineshoppesalisbury.com. Its phone number is 704-637-6120.