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Pharmacist Takes COVID-19 Vaccines to Vulnerable City Residents


March 19, 2021

New York City pharmacist Ambar Keluskar, PharmD, was profiled in The New York Times this week for a timely, unique type of pandemic outreach—holding pop-up vaccination events for vulnerable older adults at affordable housing facilities.

Supervisor of the independent Rossi Pharmacy in Brooklyn, Dr Keluskar told the newspaper his neighborhood pharmacy had been offering COVID-19 vaccinations since January. However, demand dwindled by the end of February, leaving the pharmacy with 200 unused doses. He attributed the decrease in vaccine appointments to state regulations limiting who is eligible to receive vaccines at pharmacies (due to verification concerns, younger people with underlying conditions and essential workers are not), as well as the pharmacy’s location, several blocks away from the nearest railway station. 

“[Dr.] Keluskar’s pharmacy spent hundreds of dollars on Facebook advertisements to let people know he had available doses. He asked community leaders to spread the word,” the newspaper explained. “Then he decided to try a different way to reach people who may otherwise be overlooked: Instead of waiting for them to come to the pharmacy, he would take his doses to them.”  

A tip from the office of a state senator led to a pop-up vaccination event at an affordable housing complex for older adults in Brooklyn, where 50 people who were homebound or otherwise struggling to find vaccination appointments were vaccinated. Following that was a similar event at a public housing complex, also in Brooklyn, where more than 150 people were vaccinated. City councilmen have reportedly contacted the pharmacist about conducting more events. 

Like many pharmacies, Rossi Pharmacy has taken a financial hit from the vaccination rollout. The article cited investments in equipment, such as a freezer and a portable refrigerator to store vaccines, and many unpaid hours logged by pharmacy staff. At $13 to $28 per shot administered in insurance reimbursement, the pop-up clinics offer a way to make up at least some of the investment. A bigger payoff, however, is protecting the neighborhood, which was hit hard by the pandemic, from further COVID-19 destruction. 

The state’s lifting restrictions on pharmacies would help efforts, Dr Keluskar told the newspaper. 

“In the meantime,” he added, “we have to do everything we can to stay in the program, and keep providing, keep vaccinating people.”

Jolynn Tumolo 

Reference

Zaveri M. This pharmacist had vaccine doses to spare. So he hit the road. The New York Times. March 16, 2021.

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