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'A little difficult': Nebraska pharmacies with federal program begin vaccinating 18+

Posted at 7:00 PM, Mar 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-29 20:04:56-04

OMAHA, Neb (KMTV) — On Monday, the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program began vaccinating any Nebraska resident over the age of 18. Pharmacies in larger counties like Douglas and Lincoln-Lancaster are having a hard time keeping up with demand because supply hasn't increased but eligibility for vaccinations has.

Pharmacies part of this program include all Nebraska Hy-Vee Pharmacy locations, Walmart, and other local pharmacies.

"What we've recently heard from our Federal Pharmacy partners is that they were having a little bit of difficulty getting all their schedules full because of the restrictions that they had. So our goal was to open up...and get it out there so we're increasing access points, limiting barriers and really just getting as many Nebraskans vaccinated as possible," Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Incident Commander Angie Ling said.

While many rural parts of the state may have been ready for that big jump in eligibility, Douglas County pharmacies were overwhelmed with phone calls and appointment requests Monday.

"It will be a little difficult as this was a big number of people that it just opened it up to," Think Whole Person Healthcare specialty pharmacy manager Marc Choquette said.

Think Pharmacy runs their vaccination clinics Tuesdays and many of the appointments they had filled for this week were booked by individuals in the last priority group. Their office has been ringing with phone calls all day Monday.

"We hope that everybody can be patient because we're doing the best we can with the small allocation we've received," Choquette said.

Ling said the state made the call to move to 18 and older because they can only change eligibility requirements once a week and noticed that by next week all Nebraskans should be eligible for a vaccine.

"I think here in the next seven to ten days we're going to be seeing that the general population is going to be able to get vaccinated," Ling said.

Each pharmacy that's part of the program can make the decision if they want to move down in age eligibility or not, based on supply.

"So if they want to go in smaller increments, they sure can," Ling said.

Kohll's pharmacy is not moving the age limit down to 18. They said they do not have the supply and that they also receive vaccines from Douglas County, meaning they have to follow Douglas County eligibility. As of Monday, the county currently vaccinates residents 50 and older.

"We will definitely need more supply of the vaccine to serve that population. Right now, we couldn't do that," said Kohll's co-owner, Anna Kohll.

The state hopes to receive an increase in Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses from the federal government to help speed up distribution. The state also has plans to re-allocate vaccines from more rural parts of the state to larger counties, to put the entire state on approximately the same distribution timeline.

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