Pharmacists prepare doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Life Care Center of Kirkland. Karen Ducey/Getty Images
I started working in the pharmacy at Safeway, which operates as part of Albertsons companies, while I was in school to become a pharmacist nearly six years ago. Ever since graduating pharmacy school in 2019, I’ve been working as a “floater” pharmacist for Safeway. As a floater, I move around to different Safeways when other pharmacists are out or a certain store needs an extra hand.
Pharmacists have a variety of job duties. We fulfill prescriptions and offer consultations about different medications, but we also make sure the prescriptions we’re fulfilling do not negatively interact with other medicines the customer is prescribed.
Pharmacists are quite possibly the most accessible healthcare workers there are. We can answer most questions about prescription drugs and we’re easy to reach – whether by phone or in the pharmacy itself. Because of our proximity to the public, I knew pharmacists would play a big role in the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Since the government announced it would begin distributing coronavirus vaccines to pharmacies starting in mid-February, we’ve been getting a lot of calls and a lot of questions about when it will be available.
We don’t know yet when our pharmacy will get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Safeway is part of the federal government’s vaccine distribution plan, as of now, our pharmacy hasn’t been given an exact date as to when we should expect the vaccines to be delivered. I know of some pharmacies in Oregon that have received the vaccine, but it’s been sporadic. Most of the vaccines have been distributed to healthcare clinics and hospitals.
In late January, we received a company-wide online training in preparation of receiving the vaccine. In the training, we learned about the different vaccines currently available, how to store and safely administer them, and what Safeway expects in terms of supply and demand for the vaccine.
As a pharmacist, I was trained to give immunizations in pharmacy school, so administering the COVID-19 vaccine will be no different than giving a patient any other kind of vaccine, whether it’s a flu shot or a shingles vaccine.
Right now, Safeway is also training its pharmacy technicians (who aren’t pharmacists, but assist with customers and help prepare prescriptions) to administer the vaccine. I anticipate some Safeways will set up clinics (at the store itself or another third-party location) to administer it, and a way for people to sign up to receive it online and in person.
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Administering a vaccine isn’t complicated.
Some vaccines are pre-filled syringes, where all you need to do is basically poke someone. Sometimes vaccines require some reconstitution before they can be administered. This just means they may need to be diluted with a solution.
Other vaccines, like Pfizer’s covid vaccine, come with specific storage instructions and must be kept in cold temperatures with minimal light exposure, and once they are thawed must be used within a period of time. We keep that in mind when we are preparing vaccinations during our shifts.
As pharmacists we are given storage and administration instructions by the supervisors at the pharmacy and the vaccine manufacturer. I also use resources like the Pharmacist’s Letter, where healthcare providers can access peer-reviewed research and information.
The most important part of administering the COVID-19 vaccines will be to determine eligibility.
For example, right now we can only administer vaccines to those the local and state government have deemed eligible. For some counties, this may only be a select group of people, like those over the age of 65. If someone comes in and is registered to receive the vaccine but isn’t 65, I would need a prescription in order to administer it. Pharmacists must always keep local health guidelines and laws in mind. We also are required to consider the person’s medical history and current medications before giving them the vaccine.
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We anticipate a big demand for the vaccine, and our pharmacy is doing everything we can to prepare for it.
I’ve volunteered to give the COVID vaccine to patients once it becomes available at our Safeway pharmacy. Volunteering to administer the vaccine has been encouraged; however, we are given the option of doing it or taking a store shift for someone else who has volunteered to give shots. I received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine on January 28, and am scheduled to get the second at the end of February.
During periods of overwhelming demand, like flu season, Safeway has set up clinics outside of the pharmacy to administer vaccines. I expect this will be the case with the coronavirus vaccine, too, because people in line outside of the store could become a distancing and flow issue. I still have other duties, like processing prescriptions and helping patients, so if the vaccine is given at our location, there will likely be lines out the door for quite some time.
In an email, a Safeway spokesperson said, “Throughout the pandemic, the communities we serve have trusted our pharmacy teams to play a critical role in maintaining their health and wellness. At Albertsons Companies and Safeway, we consider immunizations to be an incredibly important public service. Our pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have been preparing to handle the unprecedented demand and administer the COVID-19 vaccine safely and efficiently. We are deeply grateful for how our teams have served their communities and taken care of their neighbors during these challenging times.”
The pharmacist’s identity has been verified by Business Insider.
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