Pharmacies responding to renewed demand for COVID-19 vaccinations

Updated at 4:42 p.m.

PHARMACIES ARE experiencing a renewed demand for COVID-19 vaccinations, with adults in Rhode Island now eligible for boosters. / AP FILE PHOTO/PFIZER INC.

PROVIDENCE – As the new omicron variant of COVID-19 stokes anxiety, COVID-19 booster vaccinations are available in Rhode Island – but those scheduling their shot may need to book their appointments a few days out, with some sites showing limited or no appointments in the next few days.  

This renewed increase in demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has been noted at pharmacies in stores such as Walgreens, Stop & Shop and CVS. 

“With the CDC’s [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recently strengthened recommendation that all patients age 18-plus should receive a booster … we have again seen a spike in number of customers seeking COVID immunizations,” said Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. spokeswoman Caroline Medeiros. 

Across different pharmacy chains, demand hasn’t reached the levels of the early days of vaccine availability, when finding an appointment felt like a near-impossible task for some. But at least for the near future, people may need to wait a few days between booking an appointment and getting their shot – a different picture than earlier in the fall, when many locations advertised readily available walk-in vaccinations amid a lull in demand. 

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Demand for the vaccine “coincides with each expansion in the eligible populations,” Medeiros noted. In late November, the CDC announced that it recommends a booster for everyone 18 and older six months after their second Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot, or two months after their single Johnson & Johnson shot. 

Early in November, the CDC recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, who had previously not been eligible for any COVID-19 immunizations.  

At Walgreens locations around the country, “demand for [COVID-19 vaccine] services continues to be high over the next two weeks due to a number of factors, and appointment availability varies regionally,” said Walgreen Co. spokeswoman Eve Zibel. 

“Like many other health care entities, retailers and a wide range of other businesses and industries across the U.S., we’ve expanded our recruitment efforts amidst a pronounced labor shortage,” Zibel said. “And we’re taking every step possible to help meet current heightened demand for COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as testing and other pharmacy services such as flu shots.” 

People planning their initial series or booster shot are “highly encouraged” to schedule an appointment in advance, Zibel said. 

A spokeswoman for CVS Health Corp. declined to comment on vaccine demand at the Woonsocket-based pharmacy chain but said that “boosters and COVID-19 vaccines in general are popular for those who want to get that extra layer of protection, especially during the holidays.” 

Like other pharmacies, local CVS locations may show limited availabilities in the next few days. At some 24-hour pharmacy locations, such as the CVS at Meadowbrook Plaza in Warwick, most of the next available appointments listed on the CVS website are at late night or early morning hours, such as 11 p.m. or 3 a.m. 

CVS is also encouraging people to book their appointments in advance. 

The R.I. Department of Health could not immediately provide data on demand at state-run vaccination sites, but spokeswoman Annemarie Beardsworth said it has climbed at all vaccination sites statewide in recent weeks.

In early October, providers across the state administered a weekly average of 12,000-15,000 doses, she said. In the past five weeks, this average has increased to 35,000 – 45,000 doses per week, which Beardsworth attributed to booster availability, children ages 5 to 11 becoming eligible for the vaccine, and the omicron variant.

The state has adequate resources to meet this increase in demand, Beardsworth said.

“Through the preparation and work of all of our vaccination partners at retail pharmacies, independent pharmacies, provider offices, and locally hosted clinics, the state is able to meet the demand for vaccinations,” she added.

(SUBS final four paragraphs with data, comment of vaccine demand statewide.)

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.

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