Are independent pharmacists involved enough in COVID-19 vaccination?
Eric Larson administers a vaccine to a homebound senior. Image via Larson.

Larson cop
A St. Cloud pharmacist says they're not.

At a time when Florida reported about 1,500 vaccinations administered to homebound seniors, Eric Larson figured he performed 1,000. The St. Cloud pharmacist, through a partnership with the Osceola County Department of Health, has devoted the bulk of his professional attention these past few months to putting shots in arms.

“If each Department of Health in the state would look at what we have done and mobilized independent pharmacists, it would be a no-brainer,” Larson said. “I’m not the only one who has the infrastructure. We’re doing this because no one else is.”

Prescriptions Unlimited has five full-time pharmacists in its force, two of whom have spent much of their time the past two months visiting patient homes. Larson, the owner of the business, said he’s absorbed much of the travel burden himself as he visited individuals throughout the region who need shots but feel reticent about going to public vaccine administration sites.

He said his local pharmacy affords him a relationship with area doctors and home health professionals that corporations partnered with the state and federal government don’t have.

What he’s learned talking to individuals is that many aren’t staying home because of “vaccine hesitancy,” rather, difficulty scheduling appointments through online systems and reluctance to wait hours for a shot at a drive-up site leave them at home.

More than half of Florida seniors have already been vaccinated. From here on, the state may need to meet more individuals where they live.

Independent pharmacies, he said, can devote more attention and energy to putting shots in arms.

Larson’s pharmacy works directly with the Department of Health to connect with seniors, many of whom call when they can’t book reservations through the major pharmacies. There is also outreach through the Osceola County Council on Aging. Some lawmakers and local officials who know Larson personally also have referred patients his way.

He’s also worked directly with assisted living facilities to vaccinate populations. There, some of the larger chains have partnered with larger facilities but he has connected with some of the smaller facilities with just five to eight beds. Larson feels confident his approach could reach more individuals, and quicker.

He acknowledges the logistics challenges. In-home visits have to be planned efficiently reach as many homes in a short period as possible, and planning is required for second doses weeks later.

“To be honest we’ve put most of our actual pharmacy business on hold for this,” he said. That leaves Larson relying on Medicare payments for administering the shots.

But despite reports of some sites dealing with appointment no-shows, Larson said demand remains high in the public.

 “We still see people every day,” he said.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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