Finding a take-out Covid test at a Vermont pharmacy is hit or miss

Lynne Vezina from the Vermont Family Pharmacy in Burlington on Thursday, December 30, 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell / VTDigger

Lynne Vezina had no over-the-counter Covid tests available at the Vermont Family Pharmacy on Thursday and her supplier had not told her when she would receive a shipment.

“I have them out of stock and check three times a day, but it’s not available for, I’d say, 10 days,” Vezina said.

Tests can tell within 15 minutes whether a person is infected with Covid. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended repeat the tests at least 24 hours later, as the tests do not detect whether a person is infected within the first few hours of infection. The fast turnaround time makes testing a convenient way for people to determine if they should get together with others.

But as the Omicron variant spikes the number of cases and Vermonters head for the New Year’s celebrations, the provision of the tests is hit or miss.

Vezina said decisions by the federal government and the Vermont Department of Health to distribute take-out Covid tests have dried up supplies to pharmacies.

She acknowledged that the government’s distribution of free tests can mean more people are getting them.

“But I just think before the state didn’t test anyone (and) the federal government didn’t test anyone, so we could get them, but when they put all these orders for them , I think it took him out of the supply chain, ”Vezina said.

The Lakeside Pharmacy in Burlington had rapid antigen tests on sale Thursday.

“We just managed to get some,” pharmacist Ryan Quinn said.

Quinn said the order the pharmacy received on Wednesday and one it received last week marks the first time he’s been able to get take-out tests from a distributor since Halloween.

“Since these became available to the average person, there has been a sort of constant demand for them,” Quinn said.

The pharmacist said that until October he could only order two boxes of one test, enough for two people.

“I limited them to one box per person and most of the time I would order these tests and end up selling these tests within an hour of storing them,” Quinn said.

Walgreens did not respond to an emailed question about whether the drugstore chain has over-the-counter Covid tests at any of its Vermont stores.

Instead, Zoe Crey, responsible for retail and merchandising communications, emailed a statement.

“Due to the incredible demand for rapid home testing, we have implemented a purchase limit of four items on COVID-19 home testing products at our stores and digital properties in an effort to help improve inventory while continuing to work diligently with our supplier partners to better meet customer demands, ”said Crey.

She said some stores may experience a temporary shortage of over-the-counter rapid tests and referred customers to Walgreens.com for updates on the latest information available on store inventory.

It is a cumbersome process. You need to locate a particular store and then type in “Covid,” on which a list of all the over-the-counter tests that Walgreens sells takes place. You then need to choose an individual test to see if the store has it in stock.

VTDigger has researched all of the over-the-counter Covid tests that Walgreens sells at the store at 158 ​​Cherry St. in Burlington. None were available Thursday.

A CVS spokesperson also did not respond directly to an emailed question about whether the tests are available in stores in Vermont.

“We continue to work around the clock to provide stores with an inventory of the five over-the-counter COVID-19 home tests that we offer,” spokeswoman Tara Burke said in an email.

Burke said CVS has placed a limit of six test kits per purchase.

“We are committed to providing families with protection and peace of mind during the holiday season, and we continue to offer access to lab tests with results available in 1 to 2 days or COVID-19 tests. fast at over 4,800 CVS pharmacies. locations (nationwide), ”Burke said.

Shaws and Albertsons, owners of Hannaford, did not respond to phone calls or emails requesting information.

Andy Miller, owner of Brattleboro Pharmacy, responded, but said in an email he was “really busy” on Thursday.

Kinnney Drugs chairman John Marraffa said the company had just shipped 60,000 antigen tests to stores in New York and Vermont.

“It’s really hard to say where we have them or don’t have them in stock because they sell out as fast as we can put them on the shelf,” said Marraffa.

Marraffa said stores open between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. and by 9:00 a.m. Thursday, 400 test kits had already been sold.

“I would say in some pockets of Vermont there are probably a few tests left,” Marraffa said.

He hopes to have more supply in stock by Monday. He said the federal and Vermont governments are making test kits available to Kinney in some areas.

“When you think of Kinney drugs, think of the rurality of our markets, so in some areas we can (get) support from the federal government and the state level as well,” Marraffa said.

Kinney has 21 stores in Vermont.

“Our goal is to distribute these kits within our communities to help keep everyone safe and get us back to normal,” Marraffa said.

Testing is extremely difficult to get from vendors, said Jeff Hochberg, one of the owners of Smilin ‘Steve, a six-storey chain in Vermont.

“Usually they fight with (the) federal government (and) state governments,” said Hochberg, president of the Vermont Retail Drug Association.

This battle is about the supply of drug testing kits, Hochberg said, and the biggest customers get the biggest allocations. This makes it particularly difficult for a small chain like his or for independent pharmacies to stock up.

Hochberg said four major distributors, McKessen, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and Smith Drug, control most of the supply. He said that the test kits are very difficult to obtain through these four distributors.

He is now turning to alternative distributors who have some supply, he said.

“I am working with one of them to try to get a large quantity for my stores,” Hochberg said.

But then, he said, another challenge arises: whether the test kits distributed by these small distributors are covered by insurance companies.

He said he was able to get a test kit that was not accepted by insurance companies and therefore customers could not be reimbursed.

“This is not a good substitute for the initiative here to get free products for every Vermonter,” Hochberg said.

The Vermont Family Pharmacy in Burlington on Thursday, December 30, 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell / VTDigger

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