The Impact of Independent Pharmacies in Ohio’s COVID-19 Vaccination Administration Effort
Myriam Shaw Ojeda, PharmD
Fellow of Policy and Innovation
Ohio Pharmacists Association
The COVID-19 pandemic has demanded much from healthcare providers. In the past six months, pharmacists have been called to action to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Conway’s Pharmacies in Mount Vernon and Danville in Ohio were called to action in March. Denise Conway, a pharmacist and the owner of both pharmacies, shared, “Our team was pulled into the action and took to the task to serve our communities.”
To prepare for the flurry of vaccination administration, each pharmacist updated their knowledge on the vaccines slated for emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Alongside educational training, several workflow changes were undertaken. Refrigerators were checked for temperature stability. FDA authorized thermometers and backup thermometers were ordered to ensure compliance with refrigeration requirements. Patient handouts and vaccine information were prepared.
The Ohio Department of Health identified the pharmacies with the assistance of the Ohio Pharmacists Association as a rural and high-impact location. The first shipment of Johnson and Johnson vaccine notification arrived for the Danville location, and shortly after, an additional notification came for the Mount Vernon location. The pharmacy team was nervous but ready for action. In the first few weeks of initiating vaccine clinics, the team worked at a feverish pace to vaccinate patients. The vaccine was allocated right as the Mount Vernon site completed the construction of a dedicated patient care room. This multifunctional room was created to ensure patient privacy for non-dispensing services the pharmacy has planned to conduct. Both pharmacy spaces were used to total capacity while respecting social distancing requirements by the state.
An appointment-based model suggested by CPESN saved the team countless hours on the phone, setting up patient visits. Patients came to the pharmacy who have lived all their lives locally. Others drove over 3 hours one way to get the vaccine. While at the pharmacy, each patient commented on the quality of care provided at the independent pharmacies. Many mentioned long call times and inefficient websites at non-independent pharmacy sites that frustrated their efforts to get vaccinated. On the other hand, the website at both Conway’s pharmacies was created with efficiency in mind, and the team worked hard to reduce wait times to under 5 minutes per patient.
As the number of patients interested in getting vaccines reduced, the pharmacy has had to rely on a singular factor that makes them unique. Denise Conway stated, “my patients know my pharmacy team and me well. Patients come in seeking the medical advice of their trusted pharmacist to answer their vaccine questions.” The local relationships have now led to several hesitant patients showing up at the pharmacy and get vaccinated. Along with several other independent pharmacies, Denise uses relationships fostered over decades to have meaningful conversations with their patients about vaccine hesitancy.
As the country seeks to get 70% of adults vaccinated this summer, independent pharmacies all over the country are using their well-established networks to ensure that their patients are vaccinated and protected against COVID-19.