Maine’s pharmacists have played an important role throughout the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, said Amelia Arnold, pharmacy operations manager at Augusta-based Community Pharmacies and immediate past president of the Maine Pharmacy Association.
Independent retail pharmacists have played an especially important role in a state that is thinly populated throughout much of its geography, she said.
“In a rural state like Maine, it shows that people are able to seek health care at the pharmacies in their communities and not have to travel long distances,” Arnold said. “For some people, vaccination sites could have been an hour away.”
Maine, as of July 9, had fully vaccinated 62.3% of its total population, including 72.9% of people aged 18 years old and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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While Walgreens and CVS partnered on the national level to administer vaccines in Maine’s long-term care facilities, independent pharmacies were able to participate in the state’s vaccination effort by working with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Arnold said.
Arnold’s company was actively involved in the vaccine campaign, as were many other independents. She cited Bangor Drug Company and Savage’s Drug as examples of other independents that were actively involved in the vaccine rollout.
Their efforts have paved the way for life to inch back toward normalcy in the state, she said.
“We are seeing sustained lower transmission,” Arnold said. “People feel better about going out, and more comfortable going out to shop and out to eat.
“I have small children and I feel comfortable going out with them, more so than even a few months ago,” she said. “It is starting to feel reminiscent of last summer when things were opening, and also before the pandemic.
“It really demonstrates the value that pharmacies bring to the healthcare community here in Maine, so that feels really great to have people feel really grateful for what we as a profession have been able to give them,” Arnold said.
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Like many other states, however, Maine is seeing much of its retail space being converted to industrial uses, according to a recent report from local real estate firm Boulos.
Some food and drug retail development is expected, however, including a new 105,000-sq.-ft. Target in Auburn that is taking over the space formerly occupied by Kmart, which closed its last Maine location in 2019.
Another trend cited by the Boulos report is the increasing demand for drive-thru retail parcels, both among restaurant operators and drug stores.
“If this trend is any indication of the future of retail, then I believe we will begin to see increased demand and higher pricing for shopping center outparcels and pad sites, where developers can have the flexibility of building to suit the changing needs of a variety of businesses, [including] pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS,” the report stated.
Another trend that could impact future development is the influx of a working-age population during the pandemic, as many consumers fled large cities in favor of the more bucolic lifestyle that Maine offers.
“It will be exciting to see what they add to the business landscape in our state,” the report concluded.