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Video: Small town pharmacy fights for COVID-19 vaccine and juggles who should get it first

Apr 01, 2021 06:58AM ● By Editor

Watch the KARE 11 News report here

Photo: KARE 11 News

By Jennifer Hoff of KARE 11 News - March 31, 2021

Now that anyone 16 and older can get a vaccine, the hunt is on to find one. But that doesn't mean the supply has increased.

Some rural pharmacies haven't gotten any doses yet, like NuCara Pharmacy in Paynesville, Minnesota. It's juggling to make sure it gets a fair share and who to give it to first.  

Paynesville is about an hour and a half northwest of Minneapolis. NuCara is the only pharmacy in town and it's where about 600 people could get vaccinated.

"Oh yah, and it's killing me I can't help them by vaccinating them right now," said lead pharmacist Lee Landsteiner.

When he can, Landsteiner loyally serves the entire community known for its good fishing and cheese plant. 

"You know families, you see them out and about in the community," said Landsteiner. "They become like family."

Landsteiner is making it his mission to get the vaccine to Paynesville, but the family-owned shop isn't part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, plus the short supply means he'll wait at least another week for any doses.

The Minnesota Department of Health expects about 304,000 doses the first week of April - about double what it has received the last few weeks.

When the shipment happens, Landsteiner says he's prioritizing local people at high risk who might already be at a disadvantage. 

"Somebody from two hours away can come in and get that appointment that has access to a computer that has know-how, rather than that elderly patient who maybe doesn't know how to set-up that appointment online," Landsteiner said.

Local pharmacies can control who gets an appointment first. And they will take the time to manually reach out to their patients.

"We have their phone numbers, we have their addresses, we have, in many cases, emails," said Landsteiner. "We can contact them and make sure they’re not falling through the cracks."

If the supply increases like MDH expects it to, Landsteiner says he'll eventually create what's called a patient facing scheduler so anyone can sign up to get a vaccine. 

v"Somewhere down the road, when we feel like we've offered those appointments to people most at risk, then we'll have to open it up," he said.

Some people in Paynesville have gotten a vaccine at the CentraCare Hospital in town, but only if they're a patient. People can also check the pharmacies for availability in Cold Spring and St. Cloud which are about 25 miles away.

To see the original report and read related stories, follow this link to the KARE 11 News website.

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