Shortages slow down COVID-19 vaccinations


Fourth year pharmacy student Tiffani Collins innoculates Wilfred Griffin, Jr. with his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Crescent City Pharmacy Feb. 18, 2020. COVID-19 Pfizer booster shots are available at Tulane’s Lavin-Bernick Center.

Rae Walberg

For Crescent City Pharmacy Director Lishunda Franklin, administering the COVID-19 vaccine has been a waiting game.

“I won’t be getting any more first doses maybe until the end of the month,” Franklin said. “Currently, at the store, I only have second doses, which means I will not be able to vaccinate any more new patients that come in.”

As the pharmacy’s vaccine waitlist continues to grow to more than a thousand names, Franklin said the pharmacy has been pressing for the state to send more vaccines.

“The only thing we have to say is we need more vaccines,” Franklin said.

While Franklin said the state previously sent her pharmacy vaccines, she’s been having to request them on Mondays by 8:30 a.m. But Franklin said despite weeks of calling, her pharmacy still hasn’t received more vaccines.

Nam Nguyen, the pharmacist at NOLA Discount Pharmacy in Metairie, said she’s also felt frustrated by the communication with the state.

“It is stressful just because we are relying on the state to allocate it to us,” Nguyen said.

While Nguyen has regularly been receiving vaccines, she said the amount has been unsteady.

“The first three weeks, we received 100 shots a week and then after that, there was a bit of a slowdown so really, we are completely dependent on the state just sending more shots,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said the ability to roll out vaccines has been slower than anticipated.

“If we have a waitlist of over 3,500 names and it’s continuously growing, and we are only getting 100 doses at a time, it’s kind of hard for us to kind of knock out all of the names on the list,” Nguyen said.

According to Nguyen, the long wait associated with receiving the vaccines has caused patients to come into her pharmacy disgruntled.

“It’s been very difficult to find a place to get the vaccine, and these are people who are over the age of 70, over the age of 65, and they just kind of want to get back to their life as soon as possible,” Nguyen said.

Mai Vu, a pharmacist at St. Bernard Drugs, said she’s also experienced frustrated patients at her pharmacy.

“We are sorry that we can’t help them and have it move at a faster pace, but we are working diligently to try to help as many people vaccinated as we can,” Vu said.

For Franklin, the shortage of vaccines has caused her to lose patients to other pharmacies.

Vaccine shortages have been widespread across the U.S. with ten of thousands of vaccination appointments being canceled, according to the Associated Press.

Ochsner Health has been rescheduling first-dose appointments in southeast Louisiana after receiving 70% less vaccines in the week of Jan. 22 than they had in the previous four weeks.

AP reported that the the vaccine shortage caused cancellations of 21,400 first-dose appointments at Ochsner.

Judy Conner was one of the many people whose appointments were cancelled by Ochsner. In January, Conner, who is in the 70-years-and-older age group, scheduled an appointment with Ochsner, only for it to be canceled. While Conner said her appointment was rescheduled for late February, she said she decided to receive a vaccine from another healthcare provider.

In a request for a comment, Ochsner said that a “critical shortage of vaccines” has impacted appointments and that they’ve been working on rescheduling appointments for patients who have been affected.

First responder Stephen Killett also said he was unable to receive the vaccine when vaccinators came to his work in late January because he said they ran out of vaccines before he was able to receive it.

“I was a little frustrated,” Killett said about his vaccine experience.”I wanted to get it and get it in your system.”

Killett said he has been at risk for exposure to COVID-19 because his job entails interaction with multiple people and traveling across the country. However, he said he was able to receive the vaccine in early February.

While Vu said she believes there’s a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, she said her pharmacy has been administering vaccines at a comfortable pace.

“We are doing about 20 to 30 vaccines a day,” Vu said. “It is what we can handle.”

Since receiving the vaccines in early January, Vu, who is the only pharmacist at St. Bernard Drugs, said her workload has doubled.

“I work every day of the week already, but I am staying back at work to make sure that I am getting everything inputted and that we are making vaccine appointments for people as much as we can before leaving,” Vu said.

Despite vaccine shortages, the pharmacists said they were humbled by how their communities responded.

“I’ve given shots to some older people who they’re just really emotional,” Nguyen said. “They are crying because they haven’t seen their family in the last year, so it’s just a big sigh of relief for them.”

Even though Vu said administering the vaccine has been overwhelming, she said it’s been gratifying.

“We are helping someone get a vaccine that may help us get out of this pandemic,” Vu said.

For Nguyen, being able to administer vaccines has felt like “a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“We are hopeful for an end to all of this or just something better,” Nguyen said.