Good Neighbor Pharmacy (GNP) has allocated more than 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 1500 independent pharmacies through its partnership with the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.
Over the past year, AmerisourceBergen (AB) and Good Neighbor Pharmacy (GNP) have supported independent community pharmacies and boosted the COVID-19 vaccination efforts in the United States through leveraging the GNP network and its service offerings.
GNP got involved with the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program when it was selected to provide early support in certain communities with hard-to-reach populations. AB and GNP informed the CDC about how their members are uniquely positioned to address health equity issues, including vaccine access. “Independent pharmacy, in general, is inherently located in very socially vulnerable markets and have such intimate relationships with their patients that they are a wonderful asset to federal partners,” said Jenni Zilka, group vice president, GNP Field Programs and Services, AmerisourceBergen. Zilka emphasized that the discussions helped bring vaccines to the patients, “rather than the patients having to make their way to find the vaccine,” she said.
“Through our conversations, we really spent a fair amount of time helping the CDC understand the role that independent pharmacies could play in the rollout,” Zilka said, “In February, we were very excited to see the decision to pull the federal partners forward in the vaccination process…and we were able to put forward our independent pharmacies to participate in the efforts.”
Zilka pointed to GNP customers that have been engaging with fellow leaders in their communities to prioritize socially vulnerable populations. In rural Kansas, Moffet Drug and Ward Drug joined pop-up clinics at local churches in underserved areas. “They even drove a mobile clinic around the metro area to reach homeless individuals with vaccines,” she said. In Pacific Grove, California, one of the AB offices partnered with local organizations to administer vaccines at domestic violence shelters. “And all of them worked with public schools,” Zilka added.
AB became a network administrator for the program, placing COVID-19 vaccine orders with the CDC for its members. “In our early conversations with the CDC, they indicated that they didn’t have the bandwidth or the licenses to contract with every single independent pharmacy in the US,” Zilka explained. AB and GNP poured thousands of associate hours in advocacy, administration, data analytics, personalized support, and marketing materials to keep up demand and support their member pharmacies.
During the first week of vaccine rollouts, AB and GNP allocated more than 10,000 doses to 102 GNP members across Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Kentucky. By week 6 of the program, 152 across 10 states received 20,000 doses of vaccine. Only 3 weeks later, GNP expanded to over 143,000 doses to more than a thousand pharmacies in 46 states and Guam.
As vice president of program development and market intelligence at AmerisourceBergen, Phyllis Houston’s primary focus is finding solutions for pharmacies and anticipating what capabilities independents may need going forward. “These solutions can take the form of technology offerings, bringing a vendor partner to them, or it could be data analytics support – looking at data and providing them information feedback,” Houston said.
Houston pointed to AmerisourceBergen’s insight analytics platform, one of the tools that support Good Neighbor Pharmacy members. The tool leverages pharmacy claims data, “and provides really actionable business insights back to our pharmacy customers,” she said.
During the early COVID-19 vaccination efforts in the US, the AB program development team got to work in creating solutions for data reporting requirements set by the CDC. “Once AmerisourceBergen realized that we were going to be the network administrator for the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, that’s when my team was brought on to really understand what we would need to do from a data and reporting standpoint,” said Houston. “And then we were tasked with putting together a solution as quickly as we could to really enable some of those daily reporting requirements that the CDC was asking for.”
Equipped with existing infrastructure around claims data and an impressive data team, AmerisourceBergen was able to streamline the process and quickly roll out a solution for COVID-19 vaccine administration reporting. AB collaborated with multiple vendor partners and with its participating pharmacies to ensure that the program would capture key data fields that the CDC needed and report back on a daily basis. “That was really to allow [the CDC] to measure the impact of what the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program was doing nationwide, and how much that impacted vaccine administration rates across the country,” Houston explained.
The CDC also requested that pharmacies collect data related to race and ethnicity, which aren’t typical for a data feed, according to Houston. “Some of these data points needed new pathways just for reporting, and then a new pathway to pass that data along,” she said. As pharmacies made headway in vaccinating Americans for COVID-19, they were also able to use the webform to quickly place COVID-19 vaccine orders, as well as leverage Good Neighbor Pharmacy resources to educate their patients with reliable, fact-based information about COVID-19 vaccines at a time when misinformation was spreading. “The pharmacies could use these digital resources to be very targeted and provide great detail to their communities,” Houston added. For example, one New Jersey-based GNP member pharmacy has been offering both digital and print materials in Spanish to address vaccine hesitancy in their community. As trusted health care professionals, pharmacists can make a difference in dispelling misinformation, educating their communities, and reducing health disparities.
Houston underscored AmerisourceBergen’s efforts in prioritizing equitable COVID-19 vaccine access. Based on weekly allocation numbers, the AB team would identify and activate pharmacies that showed a high social vulnerability index (SVI). Over 55% of GNP members that are participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program are in zip codes that have been designated with a high SVI, according to Houston. “This really reinforces that critical role that community pharmacy is playing in ensuring an accessible reach for all patients,” she said.
AmerisourceBergen and Good Neighbor Pharmacy are also committed to helping independents expand their role in patient care through services like vaccinations outside of the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. But while independents continue to demonstrate their value and accessibility as health care professionals, provider status remains out of reach for many pharmacists in the US. “As of October 2020, only 37 states allow pharmacists to qualify as medical providers under [Medicare] Part B, and they don’t have full provider status at the federal level,” Zilka said. “This really limits their ability to be reimbursed for the health care services that they are already providing to patients.”
Moving forward, AB and GNP are going to double down on advocacy, Zilka said. “We’re going to continue to work with other entities and industry partners to push for policies that empower [pharmacists] to utilize their education, their training, their expertise, and continue to provide the high level of care that they already bring to their communities.”
This article was written in partnership with AmerisourceBergen and Good Neighbor Pharmacy