With three vaccines available in the market today, we can finally begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. State and federal governments are focused on getting doses into the hands of pharmacies and providers, who are doing everything in their power to get shots in arms efficiently and ensure equitable access for patients. Over the last several months we’ve made massive progress in the national inoculation movement, with over 50% of the U.S. population having received one dose, and 41% percent fully vaccinated as of early June.

That said, reports show that increasing numbers of Americans who received a first shot of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna vaccine are not getting their second shots — and that’s a problem.

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Back in March, Delaware County saw the urgency of good public health outreach firsthand. Staff at Springfield Pharmacy were working over 50 hours a week and had 22,000 people on our vaccine waiting list with barely enough to fully vaccinate 100 patients. After months of advocating for our patients, we were finally able to secure enough dosages through the state and the Federal Pharmacy Program. Since then, Springfield Pharmacy has administered 25,000 vaccines to patients across the Delaware Valley.

But now we have a different problem. The CDC estimated as of April that nearly 8% of those who were partially vaccinated, or more than 5 million people, have missed the second dose. This can be attributed to many factors, including access challenges, fear and hesitancy, and lack of vaccine education. At this critical moment for the country, it’s more important than ever that patients feel empowered to take control of their health care and prioritize getting the second dose. Independent community pharmacies are a great resource for trusted expertise and care.

Independent pharmacies benefit from the ability to build personal relationships with our patients and ensure they receive the follow-up and support we need. When getting your first dose at an independent pharmacy, you should obtain your vaccine card, ask about when to come in for your second dose, and confirm how they are planning to follow up with you (phone, email, etc.). If you received your first dose elsewhere but have not received information or are unsure how to schedule your second dose, reach out to your community pharmacy.

Our goal is to protect the health of their community, so we will help you schedule an appointment even if your first dose was administered somewhere else. To find an independent pharmacy near you that has COVID-19 vaccines and could potentially help provide your second dose, visit www.mygnp.com/pharmacies/programs/covid-19-vaccine/.

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If you are hesitant about vaccine efficacy or side effects, have questions about the second dose, or do not typically get vaccines at all, call your pharmacist or provider to discuss your concerns. We can help you understand the data and demonstrate how the benefits of full vaccination far outweigh any potential risks or exposure to the virus and its variants. Each vaccine on the market has proven efficacy against the virus among people of diverse ages, sex, race, ethnicity as well as those with underlying medical conditions. Side effects are normal and fairly minimal. According to Pfizer, about 3.8% of their clinical trial participants experienced fatigue and 2% had a headache, while Moderna reported that 9.7% of their participants felt fatigued and 4.5% had a headache.

The CDC notes that side effects after the second shot may be more intense than the ones experienced after the first shot, but this simply represents an immune response — normal signs that your body is building protection, which should go away within a few days.

Now is the time for consumers to take control of their health and protect themselves against COVID-19. Independent community pharmacies can help them do just that through accessible, trusted, and personalized care. If you do not yet have a plan for your second dose, or are unsure about getting it, contact your local pharmacist or provider. Together, we can create healthier futures and get through this pandemic.

Chichi Ilonzo Momah is clinical pharmacist and pharmacist-in-charge at Springfield Pharmacy. Brian Nightengale is president of Good Neighbor Pharmacy.