Pharmacy Staff Steps Up to Vaccinate Community
Family-owned Alps Pharmacy in Missouri is an enthusiastic partner in the effort to vaccinate the community against COVID-19.
Erica Mahn, pharmacy chief and director of the PGY1 community pharmacy residency program at Alps Pharmacy in Springfield, said she, her resident, and the rest of the pharmacy team had administered more than 5,200 COVID-19 vaccine doses through late May, and the Alps long-term care pharmacy administered 1,200 additional doses.
“We’ve offered vaccination clinics at schools, churches, food pantries,” and the local jail, she added. The team’s intent, she said is “to make sure that vaccinations are available and convenient and [there’s] no reason, really, to say no.”
Mahn said a recent focus has involved quickly setting up clinics and appointments for people ages 12–18 years as they became eligible for vaccination.
She said administering vaccines has long been a routine activity for her pharmacy staff.
But she called COVID-19 vaccinations “a new adjustment for us,” because of the vaccines’ storage and preparation requirements and the need to prepare enough vaccine for each clinic with minimal wasting of doses.
The biggest adjustment, Mahn said, was the need to quickly scale up the vaccination enterprise while also keeping the pharmacy staffed for regular business.
“My role as a pharmacy manager has basically turned into vaccination manager,” she said. “I would get new calls every single day for a new clinic we want to schedule and we had to figure out, do we have the vaccine, do we have the staff?”
She said her vaccination tasks include scheduling first and second injections and ensuring that each site has vaccination cards, doses, and enough pharmacy technicians and pharmacists administer the vaccines.
“The opportunity for our technicians to be able to offer vaccinations has been a huge improvement for us to offer it more consistently,” Mahn noted.
In Greene County, which includes Springfield, 37% of residents over age 16 years — about 88,000 people — were fully vaccinated through May 28. The Springfield–Greene County Health Department has launched the “finish strong challenge” to support the community’s goal of full vaccination for at least 70% of eligible residents.
Mahn said older patients, who were an early priority group, were excited to get vaccinated.
“They were just overwhelmed with joy ... to get back to some of their normal life,” Mahn said.
But county data indicate that vaccination rates have declined since mid-April, even as eligibility requirements have broadened.
Mahn confirmed that locally, most people who want to get vaccinated have already done so. She noted that the initial emphasis on ensuring that no dose goes unused has shifted to making sure vaccine is always available for those who want it.
“This has led to more waste, unfortunately, due to not being able to find patients for all doses when we need to open a vial,” Mahn said. “But with supply now being adequate, the state has asked that we focus on getting as many [people] taken care of as possible.”
Polling data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) describe a range of enthusiasm about vaccination among different groups. The data also indicate that some populations face access barriers or don’t know where they can get vaccinated.
A KFF survey from January found that 79% of respondents were at least somewhat likely to turn to a healthcare provider when deciding about vaccination, and 54% said they would talk to a pharmacist about the decision.
Mahn said her strategies for promoting vaccination in the community involve listening to people, affirming their specific concerns, and dispelling myths through education.
“The biggest thing I’d probably start with, with anybody that has some hesitancy, is asking why, or what they’ve heard, that maybe I could help with questions on,” Mahn said. “Each answer is a little bit different.”
Mahn also urges patients to embrace the idea that if they want to shed their masks and want the local schools, grocery stores, and restaurants to get back to normal, then vaccination is “something we have to do.”
For more information and free tools regarding the pandemic, including the Assessment of Evidence for COVID-19-Related Treatments and patient-level COVID-19 vaccine monographs in English and Spanish, visit ASHP’s COVID-19 Resource Center and the COVID-19 Community at ASHP Connect.