It is a modern miracle that in less than a year our country has gone from the onset of a pandemic to the delivery of a vaccine. Even as we celebrate this accomplishment, it’s critical that we don’t stop moving forward. This pandemic has cost far too many lives, and we must do all we can to end it as soon as possible.

COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Minnesota in late December, and yet rollout has been incredibly sluggish. While numerous reasons have been cited for the slow rollout, the good news is it can be turned around with the help of community pharmacists. That infrastructure is already in place to ramp up immunizations.

Independent and small pharmacists are serving communities in every part of our state, meeting the health care needs of Minnesotans. Need advice on a medication? Need a flu vaccine? Ask your community pharmacist. Your local pharmacy is far more than just a place to fill prescriptions. It’s a place for patient care and an integral part of our health care system.

Hundreds of pharmacists have registered to be vaccine providers, but the state has largely ignored us and not included us in its planning.

West Virginia leads the nation in immunization rates with more than 9% of its population already receiving its first COVID-19 shot, according to CNN. What’s more, by the end of January, the state expected to give second doses of the vaccine to all of its long-term care centers, reported the Associated Press.

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In contrast, Minnesota has administered just 4.8% of its population and ranks a measly 42nd in the per capita rate of people who have received their first of two shots.

How is West Virginia leading while Minnesota falls further and further behind? West Virginia found success because it used small and community-based pharmacies across the state to help administer the vaccine. Pharmacists can and should be able to do that here, too.

For priority patients, including seniors, traveling long distances to state-designated sites is unnecessary when they can just drive a mile or two to their local pharmacy to get a vaccine.

The state continues to cite a shortage of the vaccine in our state, but really it’s about the state not utilizing the infrastructure already in place. If we received 1 million new doses tomorrow, who would administer them? Where would they go? We need a plan of action that includes local pharmacists.

The Minnesota Department of Health and our state leaders must recognize the value our pharmacists offer and how pharmacists can play a key role in ending this pandemic, protecting the elderly and immunocompromised citizens, and saving lives.

From its impact on mental health to our economy, COVID-19 has cost us so much as a state and as a nation.

It is critical that we learn from other states on what works and utilize the health care infrastructure in place to get needles in arms. Community pharmacists are capable, willing, and ready to help vaccinate Minnesotans and end this pandemic.

Deborah Keaveny is a pharmacist at Keaveny Drug in Winsted, Minnesota. She also leads “MNIndys,” which advocates on behalf of Minnesota’s independent pharmacists. She wrote this for the News Tribune.