When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, independent pharmacies are being set up to fail by federal health partners.
This summer, I attended my wife’s 46th high school reunion. As with most things scheduled during the past 2 years, the 45th reunion was moved to this year. Although Denise and I went to pharmacy school together, graduating in 1981, we attended different high schools and I only knew 2 members of her Class of 1976.
At the reunion, I met many people and listened intently to their stories. Some worked abroad, living in Switzerland. Some worked in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Many stayed close to home, doing jobs from driving cement mixers to running a family practice office. Among my wife’s former classmates, one stood out, dressed in impeccable white golf shorts and a designer golf shirt. We found ourselves discussing health insurance, as we are both approaching a Medicare-eligible age. I’ll call him “Greg.”
One of Greg’s classmates joined our conversation. He asked whether Greg was still driving his Porsche, to which Greg responded, “Yes, I am; matter of fact, I just picked up a new 911 a couple of weeks ago.” He told us it was his golfing car, because he is retired and gets to golf most days. I asked him where he puts his clubs, and he responded with a smile. “Well, they don’t fit in that tiny trunk, so I put them in the front seat.”
Greg frequently golfs at a course in Ohio with his buddies. He explained that one of the great advantages of golfing in Ohio vs Pennsylvania is that the gas is cheaper. His new Porsche only gets about 12 miles per gallon. I asked, “Greg, you’re driving a Porsche 911 to a golf course and you’re worried about saving 10 cents a gallon?” He responded, “Hey, I don’t like to waste money.”
As ridiculous as this might sound, Greg has had an extremely successful career, and it is his money he’s spending on a car that costs well over $100,000. It’s his money he uses for his golf equipment and fees, and it’s his money he uses to buy his gas for 10 cents less per gallon.
The federal government has a similar outlook when it comes to health care—the most egregious example being the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Many of my colleagues are complaining of being “shut off” by the federal health partners for wasting vaccine. Over 25% of the vaccine has been wasted; 2 big retail chains are leading the way in number of wasted doses,1 but the smaller guys are wasting a higher percentage. To what can this waste be attributed?
Our federal partner will ship a minimum of 300 doses of adult Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. I have begged them to send just 60 doses at a time. They responded that they
can’t break the boxes open. I pointed out that the doses are shipped in individual boxes, a total of 5 with 60 doses each. But according to our partner, those are the CDC’s rules. I am acutely aware that the government pays Pfizer $20.50 per dose of vaccine. If 5 of the 6 doses in a vial get wasted, Pfizer still gets a check for 6 doses.
There is talk of a variant-specific vaccine coming this fall. (Editor’s Note: The September issue went to press before the FDA expanded the EUA for Pfizer-BioNTech to include bivalent boosters.) Many experts see no reason for these “amped up” vaccines, because the original vaccine is doing its job of keeping people out of the hospital and from dying. According to recent reports, Pfizer will be reimbursed $30 for each dose of this variant-specific vaccine.2 Did anyone else get a 50% raise this year? Pfizer also will be providing some single- dose vials/syringes. Vaccination rates are way down; all manufacturers should be required to provide single-dose syringes to decrease waste. But then, why should they? They get paid whether the vaccine goes into an arm or into a trash can.
Pharmacies are being set up to fail with the vaccine program. It is not a “free vaccine”—taxpayers pay for every dose. Unlike Denise’s classmate Greg, it is our money they are spending on these programs. So, for now, I’ll continue driving my Honda Civic to work so I can afford to pay taxes for the government to waste on its vaccine program.