Pharmacies in Newman and Gustine are planning to participate in the COVID-19 vaccine program but as of earlier were still awaiting the arrival of doses.

Pioneer Drug stores in Newman and Gustine, as well as Rite Aid in Newman, will be points of distribution for the vaccine as the vaccine roll-out moves forward.

Representatives of each said they are seeing extensive interest from members of the public interested in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, which is now available to all seniors 65 or older as well as the personnel identified in the Phase 1A roll-out, such as health care workers.

Pharmacists at each of the Pioneer Drug stores told Mattos Newspapers that they have established wait lists for those who are interested in receiving the vaccine; a Rite Aid phone tree message to callers stated that associates are not yet able to schedule appointments or determine eligibility for vaccines.

"We are already signed up with the program. We are waiting for the distribution of vaccine to us," said Ralph Klopping, pharmacist at Pioneer Drug in Newman.

Klopping said Monday he had hoped to receive a shipment of vaccine doses from the state as early as this week but had not yet received notification that delivery was imminent.

"A lot of people, mainly the elderly, are interested," he commented. "We are taking people's names and numbers."

Klopping estimated that he had received two dozen or more inquiries from people wanting to be placed on the call list.

"I would imagine that it will ramp up," he said of the interest.

Klopping said he anticipates receiving the Moderna vaccine, which is not subject to the stringent super-cooling requirements of the Pfizer vaccine.

"I could still do the Pfizer, but you have a very short window," he explained. "When you get it you have to take care of it right away."

Pharmacist Ben Parolini at the Pioneer Drug in Gustine said he, too, is "registered and ready to go" with a vaccine program when the doses arrive.

"It is not going to be a fast process, but we are supposed to get it," he stated. "We are hoping in the next two to three weeks."

Parolini said he will organize immunization sessions to ensure that no doses go to waste.

"When you puncture the vial to start giving doses, you have a time frame of six hours," he explained. "We are going to be calling people and putting them in line, so to speak, so there is no waste."

Parolini said he anticipates receiving the Moderna vaccine as opposed to the Pfizer, but said "it is whatever they send us. At this point we don't have any control over that."

At least one West Side pharmacy has received - and administered - its first doses of the vaccine.

Patterson Family Pharmacy last week received and distributed 120 doses, said pharmacist and owner Ali Wright. She said the initial allocation was distributed over a two-day period.

She said that the pharmacy hopes to receive more doses this week, all of which already have designated recipients. A waiting list has been established in anticipation of further allocations. In addition, Wright said, the pharmacy has established a waiting list of individuals in subsequent tiers of the distribution matrix.

Interest in the vaccine, which will be administered free of charge, has been substantial, pharmacy representatives reiterated.

Wright said her pharmacy is focused on serving seniors 65 and older in the local community, but has also received calls from Merced, Stockton and Sacramento.

At Pioneer Drug in Gustine, Parolini said, "we are fielding calls all day long."

Ann Jacob, pharmacy manager at Rite Aid in Newman, said vaccine inquiries have represented "every other call, pretty much."

A Rite Aid website indicates that the chain anticipates being able to distribute vaccines, by appointment only, in Phase 2 of the vaccine distribution process.

County clinics

Stanislaus and Merced counties have each begun distributing vaccines at clinics.

Merced County scheduled distribution of 975 doses at clinics in Merced and Los Banos on Jan. 20-22. That availability was announced Sunday morning; by Sunday evening the county announced that all available appointments to receive those doses had been filled.

Stanislaus County began holding vaccine clinics last week in Modesto, but Monday temporarily suspended all clinics in accordance with state Department of Public Health guidance regarding use of Moderna vaccine doses from a specific lot.

Stanislaus County resumed COVID-19 distribution at clinics Thursday, Jan. 21, in Modesto and Turlock.