The phones are busy at Baton Rouge-area pharmacies selected to be among the first in the state to administer the coronavirus vaccine to members of the public.
Following Gov. John Bel Edwards’ announcement last week that Louisiana’s limited vaccination program would expand to 107 pharmacies statewide — 23 of them in the Baton Rouge area — the list of those in line to receive the vaccine at Bertrand’s Pharmacy in Gonzales quickly ballooned to more than 300 people.
“People have been walking in, the phone’s been off the hook, a lot of our regular customers and customers who may have been here at one time and don’t come any more are asking,” said Jeanne Bertrand, who owns the pharmacy with her husband. “But I’m ready to roll. When we go home tonight, I’ll be starting on my list and setting up appointments for the next couple of days.”
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Bertrand’s received 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine Monday morning and plans to begin vaccinations Tuesday, then space them out over several days, Bertrand said.
The initial wave of vaccinations at the pharmacies are only available for people over the age of 70, end stage renal disease facility personnel and patients, ambulatory and outpatient health care workers, home agency patients and workers, and schools of allied health students, residents and staff.
While the initial shipment of the vaccine is limited in supply, Edwards said he expects the number of doses to “increase dramatically” in the coming weeks, allowing Bertrand, 54, to make a dent in her long list of interested patients.
Twenty-three pharmacies in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area will receive limited supplies of the vaccine this week.
"I think everybody is excited,” Bertran said. “Everybody is ready to travel, and there still is so much unknown about it.”
Down the road from Bertrand’s in St. Amant, the St. Amant Pharmacy has had a similar experience since the state announced it would be one of the few pharmacies receiving doses of the vaccine to administer to patients.
Christie Klingman, one of the owners of the pharmacy, said the list of patients in line for a shot stood at roughly 360 people as of Monday afternoon.
“Everybody’s really excited about it and we are, too,” said Klingman, 38. “But it’s a learning curve for everybody.”
Klingman’s pharmacy has taken a similar strategy to Bertrand’s, writing down the names of interested patients on a list so they can be scheduled later for an appointment. Shots are expected to begin Tuesday morning.
Neither pharmacy takes walk-in appointments for the vaccine in order to allow for social distancing and an organized distribution of the shots.
Phone lines were jammed Monday at Klingman’s pharmacy, and she said several patients have walked in to add themselves on the list because they’ve been unable to get a call through to the pharmacy due to the high volume of calls.
“The workers are probably a little more stressed out, but that’s about it,” Klingman said. “We’re all running a little crazy back here. I think everybody is just really excited to hopefully this be the start of going back to normal.”
The Moderna vaccine expires 6 hours after it's removed from the freezer to be administered, so both owners said they want to keep a large list in case patients don’t show up for their scheduled appointments and no doses are wasted.
“We have to overshoot as far as we’re not going to stop taking names because of that,” Klingman said. “We don’t want them to expire and waste.”
The frantic nature of the vaccine rollout at the pharmacies, who both said they learned they would be receiving the doses shortly before Edwards announced the expansion of the program last week, is coupled with a traditionally hectic time for pharmacies at the start of the New Year as patients deal with changes in insurance.
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“It probably couldn’t have come at a worse time, but it’s OK,” Klingman said. “It’s a good reason to be busy. That’s what we do.”
Bertrand echoed Klingman’s sentiment and said she was hopeful her pharmacy could contribute to the end of the pandemic.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to get people vaccinated and get us back to the way we used to be,” Bertrand said.