This week has been hell for any pharmacists who are distributing vaccines in Nebraska. Why? Because Pete Ricketts is a fucking asshole. Pete decided that our vaccine rollout in Nebraska would focus on rural areas to the detriment of urban areas. He also decided to fuck over people with pre-existing conditions. So Pete had a plan, and that plan was the covid vaccine hunger games. Why? Because he is no different than President Snow, he enjoys watching people suffer and die, especially his more liberal constituents in larger cities.
Everyone is currently vaccine hunting this week in Nebraska. Why? Because we don’t want to die. We don’t want our family or friends to die. And so, the demand for vaccines in Nebraska is high. But Pete decided on a ludicrous rollout that has resulted in rural areas having way too much vaccine with lower demand, which means anyone can be vaccinated (yay for Kearney!). But it means my sister in Lincoln with MS and who survived a brain tumor and has other pre-existing conditions, has to wait.
Pete has been trying to control this to no avail. Last week he threatened to cite pharmacists who administer vaccines contrary to the Nebraska roll-out plans with misdemeanors.
This week, Pete got big mad because pharmacy chains participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, like Wal-Mart and Hyvee, follow federal guidelines, not state ones, so they are vaccinating everyone 18+. Pete thought the federal government shouldn’t do their job and should have consulted him.
The result of this high demand and uneven supply means people are flooding these pharmacies in urban areas. Many are driving hours away to get their vaccine, especially residents of the most populous counties where many are left waiting.
This has resulted in a hellscape for pharmacies. Don’t get me wrong; pharmacies have been stressed to the brink since they began vaccinating. Overworked, understaffed pharmacies who are tasked with making sure your medications don’t kill you suddenly got saddled with vaccinating the country, and in many cases without extra help or extra pay. And believe me, pharmacists have been getting royally screwed for decades. They get to be the ones stuck between doctors, insurance agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and YOU getting your meds.
Pharmacists being the liaison between you, your doctor, and your insurance means people are total assholes to pharmacists even in normal times. Tell me, when you find out your prescription is denied by your insurance or you are left with a high copay, how did it make you feel? Who did you take it out on? If your doctor doesn’t respond to a refill request, who do you take it out on? If your medication is not ready, even though you never communicated your expectations to the pharmacy, who do you take it out on? Pharmacists bear the brunt of our fucked up for-profit healthcare system and pharmaceutical industry, and it has been that way for decades.
But this week, on Monday, it was a feeding frenzy. Ricketts draconian, death-eater vaccination plan was pitted against a federal plan. The result is people are rushing to pharmacies. This is a good thing for people that they have the access they wouldn’t otherwise have. My sister got her first shot yesterday. She wept. She got it because she and I refreshed the Hyvee page all day for 2 days. And we did it! Success.
But think for a moment if you are a pharmacist. In fact, don’t think, take it from me because my best friend is a pharmacist. Pharmacists and Pharmacy techs are not okay. These pharmacies are basically in a shark tank surrounded by sharks, and Ricketts’s policies chummed the waters. They are being inundated with calls and complaints. People are making appointments at multiple pharmacies and aren’t able to cancel. They call to reschedule them even though they should be rescheduling their lives to get the vaccine (not the other way around). When vaccine appointment slots are opened up, pharmacies can receive hundreds of calls within an hour. Imagine trying to manually reschedule appointments that haven’t even been entered into the system or typed up yet. It’s almost impossible to keep track of. Imagine trying to enter all of these appointments while you have to bill insurance for hundreds of people who have never even been to your pharmacy. And then, when you’re having your evening rush for normal prescriptions, you start receiving hundreds of phone calls asking if you have extra doses or a waiting list. All the while still needing to do your original job of filling prescriptions, communicating with prescribers, counseling patients on prescription and over-the-counter medications, administering other vaccines, and administering covid tests.
Pharmacists across the country are burning out. This is supposed to be a joyous occasion to be helping put an end to this covid crisis. But dealing with phone calls to cancel or rearrange appointments and receiving complaints about website issues or eligibility issues that are out of the pharmacist’s control is very much hurting the mental health of pharmacists and their staff. Technicians have been asked to step up their responsibilities and sometimes with not much training. Then to top it off, the governor starts saying that he will give a misdemeanor fine to any pharmacist who vaccinated someone outside of the eligible categories. Do pharmacists really have the time at this point to be policing patients who enroll when they are not eligible? Also, there are reasons that somebody who is not in an eligible category may have received a vaccine already. Some community clinics did not have restrictions, and sometimes there are doses at the end of the night in which patients did not show up for their appointments that need to be used in a certain time frame.
This should be cleared up soon because Wednesday, reluctantly, Pete Ricketts decided to go with the federal plan, and now, Monday, everyone 16+ will have access. What this has demonstrated to anyone in Nebraska is that our governor is an idiot. He had a shit plan that he executed poorly and without coordination with the federal government because he is a partisan hack who doesn’t work with a Democratic administration.
So if you have a second today or next week, thank a pharmacist or a pharmacy tech. Maybe don’t call when things don’t run smoothly. Show up for your goddamn appointments. And be kind. Maybe send some cookies or a special thanks to the team who administered your vaccines. Just realize that they are in a precarious position, and they are stressed beyond their means. We all are. But they are saving lives. When I got my second dose of vaccine yesterday, I thanked my BFF pharmacist for saving lives and gave her a high five. This is a wonderful thing, and they are doing the best they can. Thank a pharmacist, Nebraska!