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Independent pharmacies eager to join vaccine rollout efforts in eastern North Carolina

O’Neal’s Drug Store says they can handle up to 100 patients a day if they get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Published: Jan. 22, 2021 at 7:25 PM EST
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CHOCOWINITY, N.C. (WITN) - Several independent pharmacies nationwide are distributing the COVID-19 vaccine but providers in eastern North Carolina are waiting to get their shipment.

Chain pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens in North Carolina received doses but only to vaccinate residents and staff at long-term care facilities, and not the general public, according to AARP.

Beaufort County resident Mary Grimes has been to O’Neal’s Drug Store in Chocowinity for years. Grimes said if she could get the vaccine at the store, it’d be more convenient for her.

“It would help out a whole lot,” Grimes said. “You know, the distance that you have to go to get it.”

Independent pharmacies in North Carolina have not received the vaccine but pharmacist Neal O’Neal said he’s ready for the opportunity he’s had before with other virus outbreaks, including the H1N1 over a decade ago.

“There are hundreds of us [independent pharmacies] across the state of North Carolina and we provide a huge number of flu vaccines and other vaccines for pneumonia, shingles,” O’Neal said. “Just a lot of pharmacists who are knowledgeable, who have experience, who are ready to do this.”

O’Neal said administering the vaccine is doable if they could receive it, confident in staff members handling 50-100 patients a day and open to the task of distributing the vaccine both in-house at the store or having a team go out and do clinics.

“I think people are becoming less reluctant to get vaccinated in general,” O’Neal said. “Certainly, as we’ve seen this pandemic grow, especially hitting eastern North Carolina, I think it’s really made people a little bit more accepting to the fact that they may need to get vaccinated, or do need to get vaccinated.”

Ernest Tyska and his wife stopped by O’Neal’s Drug Store on Friday after getting their first dose at a Greenville hospital. Tyska said he experienced no wait time or problems with his appointment and is satisfied with the way things are with health departments and hospitals administering the vaccine.

“If something is to go wrong, you’re right there at the hospital,” Tyska said.

Although it may take several months for independent pharmacies to be included in vaccine rollout efforts in the county, O’Neal said he’s eager to contribute.

“I think we will definitely, definitely make a dent in the number of vaccinations that are given,” O’Neal said. “As the community rollout of the [vaccines] ... to be able to vaccinate everyone, as that happens, I don’t know any reason, I’ve not heard any reason that community pharmacy, independent pharmacy would not be included in this. So we’re confident that we’re getting vaccine and we’re looking forward to the day that we do. As far as specific date, we’ve just not been given it yet.”

Beaufort County Health Department said in a Jan. 19 press release they’re “extremely limited” on the vaccine and is waiting on additional doses to be allocated.

For information on the COVID-19 vaccine in Beaufort County, visit the county’s website HERE.

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