03/12/21 | News

In a time when everyone is doing all they can to help in any way, local mom and pop and independent pharmacies are no exception. These pharmacies have been eager to help their communities receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and have taken all of the necessary precautions to help administer the shots to their patients, yet the state has not allotted them the vaccines they need throughout this rollout, and has instead prioritized the big-box stores such as CVS, RiteAid, and Walgreens. Why does New Jersey prioritize corporations over mom-and-pop small-businesses, many in areas nowhere near a vaccine site?

The reality is the initial vaccine rollout has been a big challenge for all organizations. However, individual pharmacies have been able to rise to the challenge and prepare for a large volume of customers looking to receive the vaccine.

I have recently spoken to independent pharmacies in my legislative district, and their stories are all similar. Their patient populations are mostly senior citizens with an increased risk for contracting the coronavirus disease. Many of these patients cannot drive far or have limited to no mobility, yet are being told to drive from Monmouth County across the state to a North or South Jersey Megasite for their only chance to get a shot in their arms.

One local pharmacy currently has over 3000 local patients signed up for pre-registration and are patiently awaiting their dose while more sign up daily. They are currently approved by the state and are fully prepared to receive the doses and start administering them as soon as they arrive. Once they get their supply, they also have an organized plan in place to be able to mass immunize with the focus of vaccination efforts to the residents within their town including the assisted live-in communities.

The most vulnerable population is unfortunately becoming overlooked because of the current rollout New Jersey has in place. The elderly are understandably nervous, their stress levels are high, and their success in receiving an appointment through websites that need to be refreshed every thirty seconds is extremely low. These patients want to receive their shot from their local, trusted, neighborhood pharmacy, but chain pharmacies and mega sites that are hours away are consistently prioritized instead.

While I fully understand demand is much higher than supply, as more vaccines become available, we need to keep our senior citizen population in high priority. That means getting these vaccines to the independent pharmacies just a few minutes down the road to safely administer the shots. Let us stand with mom-and-pop shops over corporations and get them the vaccines they need to help protect their patients.

By putting corporations first, we are also inadvertently putting the mom-and-pop independent pharmacies at a disadvantage which will send many of their long-time customers away to the big corporations.

To put it plainly, New Jersey needs to give Independent Pharmacies a fighting chance at helping their patients. Anyone who wants to receive a vaccine, will receive a vaccine. We just need to ensure it won’t involve a road trip across the state in order to successfully receive a shot in the arm. Give local and independent pharmacies a shot, New Jersey.

Senator Vin Gopal represents New Jersey’s 11th Legislative District. He also serves as a member of the Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee.