The Power of Good Neighbor Pharmacy
As supply of COVID-19 vaccine grows, you may find yourself scheduling what feels like endless appointments, administering countless shots, and completing mountains of reporting requirements. But not long ago, we weren't so sure independent community pharmacies would be called upon to administer the vaccine. How did we get here? Through advocacy and elbow grease, Good Neighbor Pharmacy worked closely with the CDC to secure vaccine allocation for our members as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.
Where it started
As AmerisourceBergen's conversations about vaccine distribution with the CDC and HHS progressed, questions emerged around equitable distribution, social vulnerability, and logistically how to manage the process of getting vaccines from manufacturers into the right patients' arms.
For valid reasons, the agencies wanted as many "doors" as possible for administering vaccines with a single signing entity. They only had so many licenses available for their ordering platforms, and they also really wanted a central point of contact. It would be almost impossible for the CDC to have contracted with each individual independent pharmacy. That's where Good Neighbor Pharmacy came in.
A true moment for independents
AmerisourceBergen’s Heather Zenk, Senior Vice President, Strategic Global Sourcing, and Good Neighbor Pharmacy leaders like Jenni Zilka, Senior Vice President, Field Programs and Services, spent a lot of time educating and advocating on behalf of independent pharmacies. "The focus was around their reach. We know that 22 percent of the zip codes in the U.S. are serviced by an independent, but not a chain pharmacy," Zilka says. "So those were some of the statistics we brought to them to demonstrate why it's so important that these independents are able to participate."
When the time came for contracting, the CDC was open and transparent, willing to think about the network administrator role differently for Good Neighbor Pharmacy members because of how the stores operate differently from chains. Thanks in large part to the education efforts of the Good Neighbor Pharmacy team, the CDC and its legal team were willing to work with us and our legal team to customize an agreement whereby AmerisourceBergen would sign on behalf of our independent pharmacy members and act as the network administrator (knowing we don't have full governance over their operations).
This unique arrangement created a true moment of opportunity for pharmacy, regardless of whether you're a chain or an independent and regardless of who you use for your wholesaler. Once we signed the agreement, we knew that our independent pharmacies would be included as the vaccine became available. We would have a seat at the table to advocate and play a role in ensuring these vaccines got out to independent pharmacies.
Forging ahead in a hurry
The contract Good Neighbor Pharmacy signed with the CDC was designed around Phase 2 of vaccine availability, meaning that the Federal Retail Pharmacy Partners would be deployed to administer vaccines once there was ample product to meet demand. However, in February, the federal government pulled the partners forward to help with Phase 1, which was focused on vaccinating high-risk individuals and essential frontline workers.
Good Neighbor Pharmacy stores were pulled forward in Texas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Kansas, and Guam, based on our unique reach. The CDC was looking at where a partner had the most coverage within a jurisdiction and could service socially vulnerable markets. The program has steadily expanded as additional product hits the pipeline, and we’re now in 49 states. The team is still navigating the specific needs of many states to ensure the appropriate populations are vaccinated — with the near-term goal of moving from pro-rata allocation by state to being able to place product where it is most needed.
1 million doses allocated and counting!
“Our goal is to get this vaccine in as many stores as possible so that it's more readily available throughout the country,” Zilka says. “All federal partners have the same guidance, so there are shared goals across our peer groups, and we’re honored to be leading the charge for independents.”
Focusing on the most vulnerable
In terms of specific patient populations, Good Neighbor Pharmacy has worked to ensure high-risk and vulnerable groups receive the vaccine. From focusing on teachers to emphasizing equitable distribution, we're trying to make sure that stores with socially vulnerable patients in their communities have the tools to reach those markets and get those vaccines in the right arms.
For example, we made sure our stores on the border in Texas received sufficient doses of vaccine back in February and marketing materials in Spanish for the vulnerable population there. We're also working with stores that have significant homeless populations in the community to coordinate mobile vaccination efforts that are safe and well-organized. These are individual examples in addition to the best practices, materials, and encouragement we share each day.
Telling your story
We know the additional reporting requirements connected to COVID-19 vaccine administration have been daunting and time-consuming. The data reporting requirements also changed midway through the process of securing allocation for independents, so our team worked quickly and diligently with your pharmacy management systems to capture the new fields so this key vaccine administration data could be reported back to the CDC. Additionally, screening forms needed to be refreshed to support the new data requirements and help identify eligible populations. “These changes really required pharmacies to capture more data than typically needed for a vaccine,” says Phyllis Houston, Vice President of Program Development and Market Intelligence for AmerisourceBergen. “But they are so important to show the reach of independent pharmacies.”
Reporting is an important way to make your mark in the effort against COVID-19. "It’s really the best mechanism for our pharmacies to share with the world what they're doing. Whether it's eventually with payers, with the CDC, with patients in the general public, it's needed for them to tell their story," says Jenni Zilka. "They can show how quickly and efficiently they're able to vaccinate and that they're reaching the right people just based on where they're located and how well they know their communities."
The effort to make sure you're able to vaccinate in your community required intense collaboration from every part of Good Neighbor Pharmacy and AmerisourceBergen, including our Government Affairs & Policy team, the Elevate Provider Network team, legal counsel, IT, public relations, business coaches, merchandisers, advertising managers, and more. It’s been one of the biggest and most complicated initiatives we’ve ever undertaken, and we couldn’t be more grateful to see our members make the most of this unprecedented opportunity to create healthier futures for your communities.