World news wrapup: 28 January 2021

Pharmacists “summarily let go” in mass ShopRite closures; vaccine-tampering pharmacist to plead guilty; pharmacists spearhead minority vaccine uptake

Keasbey, New Jersey: Wakefern Food Corp has announced that it will close nearly a third of its ShopRite stores, and sending their patients to local CVS pharmacies instead.

According to Supermarket News, the organisation is blaming underperformance.

“The pharmacy industry is highly competitive, and we were unable to sustain sufficient sales despite our marketing efforts, which led to the difficult decision to close these store pharmacies,” Wakefern spokeswoman Karen O’Shea said in a statement emailed to Supermarket News.

A total of 62 of the 209 ShopRite pharmacies are to be sold.

Wakefern, a New Jersey-based retail food cooperative, plans to sell patient prescription files to CVS, but has not disclosed a sale price for these.

Support staff are expected to be offered jobs at other ShopRite locations, while affected pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are to be given an opportunity to interview at a CVS.

According to Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Joseph N. DiStefano – 22 of the affected locations are in the Philadelphia area, though others are in South Jersey and Delaware – pharmacists were “summarily let go”.

One customer told Mr DiStefano that her pharmacist had been in tears when she saw her at the pharmacy.

The pharmacist reportedly told the customer that, “We got a conference call last week and we were so excited, we thought we would be getting COVID vaccines here. And they told us we were all fired.”

The customer in question has had her files sent to another pharmacy, but is worried that she will be unable to get there, as she does not have a car.


Grafton, Wisconsin: The pharmacist who tampered with COVID vaccine doses in an attempt to spoil them has agreed to plead guilty to charges filed in US federal court, the country’s Department of Justice.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Department said that Steven R Brandenburg, of Grafton, Wisconsin, was charged with two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of death or bodily injury.

Mr Brandenburg has agreed to plead guilty to the charges, which each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment. 

As outlined in court documents, on two successive overnight shifts in late December, the hospital pharmacist deliberately removed a box of COVID-19 vaccine vials manufactured by Moderna—which must be stored at specific cold temperatures to remain viable—from the hospital’s refrigeration unit.

His intent was to render the vaccines inert and no longer effective.

In the plea agreement Mr Brandenburg said that he was sceptical of vaccines in general, and the Moderna vaccine specifically.

He had communicated his beliefs about vaccines to his co-workers for at least the past two years.

After leaving the vaccines out for several hours each night, Mr Brandenburg returned the vaccines to the refrigerator to be used in the hospital’s vaccine clinic the following day.

Before the full extent of the conduct was discovered, 57 people received doses of the vaccine from these vials.

“Pharmacists rank among some of the most trusted professionals,” said FBI Milwaukee Special Agent in Charge Robert Hughes.

“This individual used his special access to tamper with vials of the much needed COVID-19 vaccine. The FBI takes allegations of consumer product tampering very seriously and will use all available resources to bring those to justice who intentionally put the public’s health at risk.”


Birmingham, England – Pharmacists are helping spearhead a campaign to reduce vaccine hesitancy among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people, reports the Pharmaceutical Journal.

Pharmacists working with Masters Group stores have been leading immunisation efforts at two sites – one a community pharmacy, the other a Birmingham mosque, the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre.

According to Masters director Murtaza Master, despite a high risk of contracting COVID-19, the uptake of vaccination against COVID-19 is low in BAME communities.

“We wanted to bring it home to them and embed it within the community, engage the local leaders and the local community so that they would have confidence in the whole scheme,” he told the Journal, explaining that the group applied for the sites to be designated vaccination centres specifically to improve uptake in this demographic.

“If you are the leader of the community, if you say it and if you come down yourself and have the vaccination, then the rest of the congregation is likely to be feeling more comfortable,” he said.

“If you engage the community, they have a stake in it. Perceptions change when you engage them.”

The Journal noted that a recent report showed vaccine hesitancy in BAME communities to be of significant concern, with 72% of black British respondents saying they were unlikely or very unlikely to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Mr Master said that he felt that so far, the project was helping.


Edmonton, Alberta – A pharmacist is hoping that other members of the profession will join him in helping patients who can’t currently afford their medicines.

CTV News reports that Terwillegar pharmacist Mohamed Elfishawi rang a neighbour to discuss having her pick up her medicine, but she said that she could not afford it, so he should not dispense it yet.

“Right away I told her, ‘Don’t worry about the money, just take your pills and whenever you have money you can pay for it or forget about it,” Mr Elfishawi said. “It’s not a big deal.”

He then posted on the local Community League Facebook page to tell other people in similar situations that they can come to his pharmacy for help – and told CTV News that he hopes other pharmacists can do the same.

“It’s tough times and everybody needs help,” he said.

While locals have offered to donate money to his cause, he has said no for now, but may accept in the future.

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