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Small pharmacy owners question if DC Health has authority to require use of its vaccine portal system

Dr. Michael Kim of Grubb's Pharmacy said the CDC is looking into whether D.C. has the authority to stop owners from booking patients through their own portals.

WASHINGTON — There are questions if health officials in the District have the authority to require independent pharmacies to use the D.C. Health portal system instead of their own. 

Local and smaller pharmacies have started receiving doses of the vaccine through a partnership with the federal government, not the city. However, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt of D.C. Health said in a briefing on Monday that local pharmacies cannot use their own registration system. 

"We believe the most equitable approach to getting vaccines out is centralized scheduling," Nesbitt said. "Now that we have awareness of all of these independent pharmacies who may be receiving 100 or 200 doses of vaccine a week or every other week, their appointments are going to be made available through vaccinate.dc.gov."

Dr. Michael Kim of Grubb's Pharmacy in the Capitol Hill neighborhood said the department still needs to clarify and provide more information. His pharmacy already vaccinated more than 400 residents since receiving the shipment of doses last week and is slated to immunize about 500 more this week. 

In a meeting with D.C. Health last week, Kim said health officials instructed him to stop using his website and to facilitate appointments through the city's registration portal. 

"I'm still confused how this whole process is going to work and how they're going to send the data to us," Kim told WUSA9. "I believe at this stage in the game we should be concentrated on vaccinating as many people as we can regardless of social status."

Kim said he reached out to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and received this response: 

All pharmacies in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program are able to use their own schedulers to ensure mechanisms to schedule vaccination appointments are efficient and as easy as possible to make. Partners that are already linked to centralized system in select jurisdictions may choose to continue scheduling through the state. This guidance aligns with the federal government’s efforts to expand vaccine eligibility to all adults by April 19, and increasing the number of locations vaccine is available across the nation through the federal pharmacy program.

Alfred Addico, co-owner of Dupont Circle Pharmacy, received an e-mail last Friday that announced his location will first begin receiving 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine starting this week. Since signing up to receive the vaccine months ago, Addico said many of his customers have been eagerly waiting to receive the shot through his business. 

Addico is opting out of an online registration system by asking eligible residents to simply call the pharmacy to book an appointment instead. Nearly 200 people have signed up to be on their waiting list.

"I've naturally been calling my customers to let them know that they should be ready for a surprise," Addico said. "They've been calling and calling."

When asked if he will follow D.C. Health's instruction, Addico said he's choosing to stick with his original plan since the supply is from the federal government. 

"We have been in the community every day," Addico added. "We know the customers, we know where they live and we know what their needs are, so, we know them better than D.C. Health."

WUSA9 has reached out to DC Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the CDC for more clarification but hasn't received an answer as of Monday afternoon.

RELATED: 'It's very exciting' | Vaccine eligibility expands Monday to people 16 and older in DC, MD

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