Arkansas pharmacies overwhelmed with scheduling COVID-19 vaccines as next phase nears

‘We’ve been getting an unmanageable amount of calls’
Published: Jan. 15, 2021 at 6:51 PM CST
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HARRISON, Ark. (KY3) - The next phase of vaccine distribution will move forward in Arkansas in the upcoming days, and pharmacies say they are already hard at work trying to schedule as many vaccination appointments as possible.

The state’s next round of vaccinations, Phase 1-B, starts on Monday. In this upcoming phase, teachers, school staff and people 70-years-old and older can now get the vaccine.

With more people able to get vaccines, pharmacies say phone calls have been almost endless.

“We are definitely overwhelmed with phone calls and messages,” Sam Alexander Pharmacy owner and Pharmacist Tara Willmott said Friday.

Willmott said hundreds have called, all eager to get the vaccine as the new phase approaches.

”We’re just trying to get everybody down on a list and trying to get people scheduled,” she said.

Her pharmacy is busy taking calls and continuing regular operations. And just down the road, other pharmacies seem to be experiencing the exact same thing.

”We’ve been getting an unmanageable amount of calls almost,” Sullivan Pharmacy Pharmacist Heather Reddell said. “It’s been hard even for our regular patients to call and get through on their refills.”

Both Wilmott and Reddell said their pharmacies are currently working as hard as they can to to get as many people as possible vaccinated in the coming days, weeks and months.

However, they said there is only so much that can be done.

”Everybody cannot get a vaccine on Monday or even next week,” Willmott said. “[It is] physically impossible.”

Reddell said they are all a bit overwhelmed, but also eager at the same time.

“We’re very excited to get everybody vaccinated,” she said. ”We want our community to be safe. We want to help take pressure off our hospital and the hospital staff have been experiencing that for the past year. So there’s a lot of excitement and that’s helping to drive us forward.”

Both already offer vaccines now and are expecting more for Monday. The vaccines have to be stored in a special freezer at a nearby medical center.

“It is quite a complex process because the Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at such a low temperature, we only have 120 hours from the time we take it out of the freezer until it has to be administered at refrigerated temperatures,” North Arkansas Regional Medical Center Vice President of Operations Josh Bright said.

Bright said the medical center is hub for vaccines in the area, and is responsible for deliveries to local pharmacies.

”It’s a fairly seamless process,” he said. “Our orders come in on a weekly basis. And we have the ability to re-distribute the vaccine to the pharmacies based on their need and preset allocations.”

Bright said there is something everyone needs to keep in mind as the next phase nears.

“We know demand for the vaccine will far outweigh availability of the vaccine,” he said. “We ask our community to be very patient with us. We will get to them over the next several weeks.”

They all urge people to not just show up to pharmacies to get a vaccine.

“All three of the pharmacies have been like swamped with phone calls and we are just asking people to not get on multiple lists and be patient and we will call you when your name comes up,” Willmott said.

Willmott and others said North Arkansas Regional Medical Center and the surrounding pharmacies are all working to get the vaccines out, and at this time people should be patient and call to schedule an appointment if they are eligible.

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