A Pharmacist Reflects on the Opportunity to Protect the Public’s Health

By Jennifer Griffiths, PharmD, RPh

When COVID-19 struck I was working at a small, independent pharmacy on Martha’s Vineyard. We have only one hospital which has three ICU beds and six ventilators. You can see how this could result in disaster should an outbreak of COVID-19 occur. Med-Flight is an option to get the critical patients to bigger hospitals. However, the beds in Boston were filling up fast and in inclement weather, Med-Flight doesn’t fly. We depended on the promised vaccines to be approved to help keep us all safe.

Islanders were patient. They followed the rules, masked up, stayed home, bought up our entire stock of hand sanitizer, masks, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, literally everything. As soon as the primary vaccines became available, healthcare providers on the island went to work. The hospital received the first shipments and administered almost all of the primary doses. Once the boosters became available, all hands were on deck, including pharmacists and their stores.  As you can imagine, the demand was through the roof, especially as the tourist season approached. Martha’s Vineyard’s population goes from 17,000 year-round to over 200,000 during the summer season. The influx of people from all over the country concerned most of us and it led to healthcare workers emphasizing the importance of receiving boosters as it adds an additional layer of protection. Three of the four island pharmacies were administering boosters and islanders were lining up to get them.

Unlike airlines, the Steamship Authority (the company that owns and operates the ferries to and from the islands) required no proof of vaccination to board the vessels. The only requirement was for passengers to wear a mask. Everyday thousands of people would disembark from ferries, pleasure boats, small cruise ships and tour buses alike with their vaccination status unknown. The mask mandates were kept in place all through the summer season with about half of the visitors not giving anyone a hard time about it.

Around the time the third booster was approved, I transitioned from my small pharmacy on the island into my current position at Walgreens on Cape Cod, where I grew up,. As a pharmacist who was new to the company, I struggled to keep up. We were booked for vaccines every 15 minutes and not one person missed their appointment. After a couple of weeks in my new position, I got my bearings and opened the store up for not only appointments but also to walk-ins. My goal was to ensure that everyone who wanted a vaccine would get one. The first day that we had opened to walk-ins, I had given 48 COVID-19 vaccines by 12:30pm.

As a pharmacist, I have always loved giving vaccinations and I feel like its an integral and convenient way to protect the public’s health.