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“I tell myself everyday that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I can’t vaccinate everybody today. I can’t vaccinate them all tomorrow. And I can’t even vaccinate everybody. So we’re just trying to do the best that we can and take this opportunity to help our community.”
Anne Pace is a pharmacist and co-owner of Kavanaugh Pharmacy in Little Rock, AR with her husband Scott Pace. Their forward-thinking mindset has created opportunities for Kavanaugh Pharmacy during the pandemic, such as becoming a key vaccine distributor and administrator in their state, as well as being one of the first pharmacies in the US to offer rapid antigen testing. “Since the beginning of Covid, we have tried to embrace [every opportunity], because ultimately our goal is to help our patients and help the community,” says Anne Pace.
Ever since they bought Kavanaugh Pharmacy seven and a half years ago, Anne and Scott Pace have been innovating at every turn. “We certainly tried to update it from what it had been before. We got PioneerRx, we got some automation…and we always try to do something different and new with the pharmacy,” says Anne Pace. Their latest moves in preparation for the Covid vaccine included purchasing an ultra-cold freezer and renting out a space to use as a stand-alone vaccination center. They paid attention to the development of the vaccine and thought ahead to what might be helpful to them in the future as distribution began. “We saw that there were a good number of the vaccines in the pipeline that were going to be requiring ultra-cold freezing. So in September, we took a gamble and ordered a deep freezer. We’d been sitting on that for probably three months, and then it turns out Pfizer’s vaccine is first-to-market and it requires ultra-cold freezing.” It was go-time.
Since Arkansas is a largely rural state, many hospitals and pharmacies there do not have the capacity to properly store the vaccine or even enough people to require full shipments of it. Thankfully, there was a local pharmacy that thought ahead and was prepared to step in. The Arkansas Department of Health was able to call on Kavanaugh Pharmacy for assistance in distributing and storing the Covid vaccine. “We’re a little bit of a central distribution hub, since we have the capability to store [the vaccine]. And so we received some of the first doses in the state and were able to then help distribute that to rural hospitals. We were able to drop off [small batches] of vials around the state to hospitals, so they could start getting their employees vaccinated,” Pace explains. They also started helping distribute the vaccine to other pharmacies in the area that do not have the proper storage, allowing them to come pick up enough doses for a couple of days at a time to ensure the vaccine stays effective.
It’s become clear that this vaccine has really been about the logistics. The storage and distribution of the vials is only part of the story. The next hurdle that Kavanaugh Pharmacy faced was finding an efficient and safe way to actually administer the vaccine to eligible people in their community.
After taking a step back and realistically looking at the limited space in their neighborhood pharmacy, Anne Pace says they knew they would need a new plan to safely start vaccinating their community. So, they found a vacated art gallery in their neighborhood and started renting out the space to use as their own vaccination clinic. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson made a visit to their clinic, commenting on how impressive their workflow was. And yet, each day brings new assessments of how to continue improving workflow and increasing efficiency. With demand growing, the phones ringing off the hook, and an astonishing 7000 people on their waitlist – the team at Kavanaugh Pharmacy is constantly evaluating what works and what doesn’t to adapt their process and get more people vaccinated quickly, and safely.
While they have hired a couple new pharmacy staff members to aid in Covid-related operations, Kavanaugh Pharmacy has also found overwhelming support from members of their community. They have several volunteers helping staff the vaccination center – from currently practicing or retired nurses and physicians, to people with free time who just want to help in any way they can. These volunteers have helped them be able to run the vaccination clinic while still running their regular pharmacy business as well. It all began with a local couple that owned a dermatology clinic who read about Kavanaugh Pharmacy’s new vaccination center online. They immediately reached out to the Paces and asked how they could be of service. “And they showed up to the pharmacy at one o’clock that day,” Pace recounts. “I mean, every week they’re saying, ‘When I’m off work, I can come help.’ or ‘Tell me what we can do.’” From there, the group of volunteers started growing – and they needed all the help they could get.
Now they will be moving on to vaccinating the next phase of eligible individuals, which will include elderly patients with existing health conditions. This will come with an elevated level of safety precautions, as they keep an eye out for any reactions to the vaccine. As the pharmacy continues to navigate new challenges, Anne Pace admits it has certainly been exhausting, but her and her team have a deep appreciation for the support from their volunteers and patients, and they are motivated by the desire to help their community for a greater cause.