ST. MARYS — St. Marys Pharmacy has been a trailblazer in administering the COVID-19 vaccine, surpassing the 7,000th dose mark at the mass clinic held Sunday, Feb. 21.
Chief Financial Officer Frank Straub said the first and second Moderna vaccine clinics have each been held at Elk County Catholic High School. SMP is also vaccinating 1,000 Phase 1A patients per week at the South St. Marys Street facility.
Being one of the largest independent pharmacies in the state to administer the vaccine, they have not yet experienced a supply shortage, said Straub. However, given new Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines aiming to limit supply, he anticipates seeing “a slow down.”
The scheduled clinics take a lot of personnel to run smoothly. Pharmacy Director Molly Beimel said clinics include the Civil Air Patrol directing traffic, first responders helping to monitor patients and community volunteers donating their time.
There have been many people offering to help with the process, Straub said, including 150 volunteers for the Feb. 21 clinic.
SMP, Penn Highlands Elk and Keystone Rural Health of Ridgway are current Elk County facilities offering the vaccine.
Currently, SMP has more than 16,000 people on its waiting list, said Beimel. Although SMP likes to focus on Elk County patients, it has been opened up to Pennsylvania residents, since other counties don’t have access to the vaccine or the means to distribute it. People are traveling quite a distance to get it, including high-risk individuals and healthcare workers.
Almost all of the feedback SMP has received from this has been positive, says Straub, noting distributing the vaccine is more of a community service, and as with anything, there has been a learning curve.
“Prior to this, we didn’t have a vaccination team,” he said. “We’re using our own staff and developing process. When you have 200 people per day coming in the store who weren’t before, there is a lot that has to happen on the back and the front end.”
SMP realizes vaccines are going to make a big difference, said Straub.
“This is highlighting the pharmacy profession, and the difference it can make in the community.”
Beimel noted that it’s important people follow protocol when it comes to their vaccine appointment. Patients are asked to check in on an app on their phone or call the extension number they are given once they arrive, and to wait until around five minutes prior to their scheduled time to enter the pharmacy. Those who come in any earlier are making it difficult to follow social distancing guidelines.
“If everyone follows the protocol, it goes really smoothly,” she said.
Registering for the vaccine through SMP is a multi-step process, says Beimel. Those interested can visit the SMP website — www.smprx.com — and access the vaccine request form. When there are available appointments, the patient will be sent a booking link to book their appointment, and will receive a confirmation.
If people are unable to register online, they can call the COVID hotline at 814-971-1070, or visit the pharmacy and access an iPad and employee assistance.