Richmond Times-Dispatch: Editorial: As community institutions step in, vaccine efforts really can grow by leaps and bounds

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, CHRIS GENTILVISO

After early moments of frustration, Virginians should take solace that help is on the way with the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Tuesday, the White House announced the first phase of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. Beginning Feb. 11, the public-private partnership will mobilize 21 national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks representing 40,000-plus locations. In Virginia, CVS is among the large chains, with 28 pharmacies set to participate, including some in Richmond. Registration is set to open Feb. 9.

“One of our greatest strengths as a company is our presence in communities across the country, which makes us an ideal partner for administering vaccines in a safe, convenient, and familiar manner,” Karen S. Lynch, president and chief executive officer of CVS Health, said in a statement.

We agree. We know supply, not capacity, has been the issue. But as community institutions step in, vaccine efforts really can grow by leaps and bounds.

“In multiple states, we’ve seen how community pharmacists have the flexibility to cut through red tape and reduce headaches for patients in their communities,” U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, said in a statement.

That’s the truth. And even at mass vaccination events, we have seen their incalculable value. A report in Wednesday’s Times-Dispatch chronicled how Richmond Raceway in Henrico County has been a local driver of Virginia’s improved push to get shots in arms. Since Jan. 18, roughly 16,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered.

The linchpin of this effort is a pre-existing relationship between Henrico officials and Westwood Pharmacy — a community institution that has served county facilities in the past. One morning this past month, County Manager John Vithoulkas called owner Mark Oley and asked for help. Oley and Dr. Shubhro Pal, director of pharmacy at Westwood, rose to the challenge. Virginians now have the peace of mind of a vaccine because of their leadership.

We need more of this. A few weeks ago, the Virginia Department of Health indicated that roughly 2,000 provider groups and 400 pharmacies have been approved to give vaccinations. With more doses — and more trust in community institutions we know — any Virginian who wants or needs this vaccine will be able to make the same kind of call that Vithoulkas did.

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