Why it’s still difficult to get a COVID-19 vaccine despite 18+ eligibility at local pharmacies

Some pharmacies are now able to give the COVID-19 vaccine to any adult over 18 but getting an appointment may not be easy.
Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 6:57 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Vaccines are now eligible to more people in the metro thanks to the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which gives COVID-19 vaccines to local, independent pharmacies.

The pharmacies, though they are given the vaccines federally, have been required to follow the guidelines of the county they reside in, meaning pharmacies in Douglas County must follow the same age restrictions it’s allocating shots to.

That is until Friday when the state of Nebraska announced that many included in the pharmacy program can now give vaccines to any adult over 18 years of age.

“The state wants to create no barriers, create a situation where there are no barriers to get the vaccine,” said local pharmacist Marc Choquette. “And so that’s kinda why they went with that decision to go to 18 and older. That’s going to make it a lot easier for people of all ages to get the vaccine but at the same time it will create a lot more demand and more people trying to get spots.”

Choquette, the Specialty Pharmacy Manager at Think Wholeperson Healthcare near 72nd and Center Street, said since the announcement was made, they’ve been inundated with phone calls and inquiries.

“We are trying to field those calls as best we can, but due to the large volume of people in Omaha it is difficult,” he said.

But it’s also still difficult for those who want a shot to actually get one if they’re going through local pharmacies. That resonates with Creighton Law student Octavio Edgington.

Edgington has several underlying health conditions and was supposed to get his vaccine weeks ago before that group was de-prioritized.

“So I was excited, I mean I think a lot of people are excited to get the vaccine,” he told 6 News.

When the vaccine opened to all ages at some locations in Omaha, like many others, Edgington tried and failed to get an appointment.

“There are very few places that even have availability and those that do, when you go to the page to sign up for a date, there’s no dates that are available,” he said. “So there’s a lot of frustration in the unknown in when we will actually be able to receive a vaccine.”

Locations like Think say it may be difficult to get a shot through them because allocation to their pharmacies is still very limited, some places only getting a few hundred shots.

“Those can go quickly when you open them up to everybody 18 and older so those might be gone in 15 minutes or an hour depending on what the allocation is this week, so it can be difficult to find those spots,” Choquette said.

Many at this point say they hope the Douglas and Sarpy County health departments will, too, open vaccines to all ages. Otherwise, for people like Edgington, it’s still a waiting game.

“Especially with states surrounding us like Iowa and Missouri, I would have an opportunity in those states to get a vaccine, but here in the state of Nebraska that isn’t an attainable goal right now,” Edgington says.

The list of other pharmacies in Omaha and the surrounding areas participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program can be found here.

Local pharmacists still, however, stress the importance of signing up on the state’s website for the vaccine and regularly checking your local health department’s site for frequent updates and changes. They encourage anyone with vaccine and eligibility questions to contact the health department.

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