Women Pharmacists Are Leading Successful COVID-19 Vaccination Programs

Drug Topics Journal, Drug Topics March 2021, Volume 165, Issue 3

In an opinion piece, pharmacist Pete Kreckel highlights the ways that women have been leading the COVID-19 vaccination effort.

In the late 1970s, I worked at a paper mill for 3 summers while I was in pharmacy school. Of all my lessons learned running jackhammers in steel tanks, shoveling bark in the woodyard, and muscling cast iron boiler parts, I can still see a sign in the personnel director’s office. It was a sheet of paper that read, “Don’t start vast projects with half-vast ideas.” Say it quickly and it really makes sense.

I can’t think of a more lucid example of a vast project that has been implemented with “half-vast” ideas and implementation than the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. There isn’t a community pharmacist whose day-to-day activities has not been altered by this historic event. Patients call incessantly asking when it is their turn to get their dose of the precious vaccine. Even the leadership in Washington and our state capitals see the community pharmacist as the answer.

The news, whether on the internet or television or in your local newspaper, is chock-full of vaccine stories. Patients read the headlines and pick up the phone and call the pharmacy for information. Small community pharmacies can field 100 phone calls or more a day for patients to be put on the “list.” Forget the internet; most patients, especially the elderly, want to speak to a human, a human who can get them this life-preserving shot in the arm.

We’ve all seen the colossal success in West Virginia, one of the few states to use independent pharmacists to administer vaccines in the nursing homes. In my home state of Pennsylvania, we were ranked in the very bottom of percentage of shots administered versus received in the initial rollout. West Virginia, early on under the leadership of Gov James “Big Jim” Justice, deployed small, independent pharmacies as the best option. My daughter Gretchen Garofoli, PharmD, BCACP, CTTS, and her team of pharmacists, Krista Capehart, Pharm D, MSPharm, BCACP, AE-C; Betsy Elswick, PharmD; Ashleigh Barrickman, PharmD, BCACP; Heather Johnson, PharmD; Ashlee McMillan, PharmD; and Angela Goodhart, PharmD, are mostly responsible for West Virginia’s success. Gretchen was featured on local news channels, NPR, PBS, and even the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) World News. Capehart has been featured on many news outlets as well and was featured giving Justice his vaccine.

Notice that all 7 leaders from the West Virginia’s School of Pharmacy are women. At the end of the day, they go home and manage their households and take care of Ethan, Luke, Gwyn, Ainslee, Connor, Macy, Lila, and Ava. These amazing women saw a vast project and used their leadership skills and connections to implement the rollout of vaccines to the long-term care facility residents.

Two other women I’m familiar with are Pennsylvania residents and pharmacists. Molly Beimel, PharmD, from my birthplace of St. Marys, Pennsylvania, spearheaded her independent pharmacy’s efforts and pulled off a 1200-dose clinic at the local Catholic high school. Even closer to me is my wife, Denise Kreckel, RPh, who, along with her colleagues at Centre Volunteers in Medicine in State College, Pennsylvania, conducted the same 1200-dose clinic, however, with the Pfizer vaccine. With such precision, my wife handled the numerous storage requirements of this delicate vaccine from dry ice to thawing, reconstitution, and administration. I was amazed to see this 5-foot, 2-inch powerhouse impact the lives of so many in our community. 

Women make up about a quarter of Congress and of Pennsylvania’s state representatives in Harrisburg. On the national and state levels, the rollout of the vaccine has been abysmal. Is there any wonder the amazing success of West Virginia and the clinic success in Pennsylvania are led by women pharmacists? There is no doubt their vast ideas are making up for the “half-vast” vaccine rollout on the federal level. 

download issueDownload Issue : Drug Topics March 2021