Rural Pharmacies Providing COVID-19 Vaccinations

Select U.S. Health Mart pharmacies have started vaccinating patients



Read time: 4 minutes

As the effort to vaccinate millions of Americans against COVID-19 comes to life, McKesson is playing a pivotal role supporting the U.S. government as a centralized distributor for COVID-19 vaccines and the ancillary supply kits required to administer them. And while thousands of McKesson distribution center workers pack and prepare the vaccines for shipment, the company is also supporting another team of healthcare heroes at Health Mart pharmacies so they’re able to get vaccines into patients’ arms as soon as they arrive.

Since the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines became available in December, more than 200 Health Mart pharmacies – a franchise network of independent, locally owned pharmacies supported by McKesson – have begun administering COVID-19 vaccines in cooperation with state vaccination plans.

Bartles Pharmacy

A pharmacist at Bartle's Health Mart Pharmacy in Oxford, N.Y. administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient.

And in February, even more Health Mart pharmacies joined the vaccination initiative as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. The new program – a collaboration between the U.S. federal government, states and territories, national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks – is aimed at expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines across the country through pharmacies.

As an independent pharmacy network and partner in the federal program, Health Mart developed its Federal COVID-19 Vaccination Program to provide back-end support for participating pharmacies, including an online vaccine scheduler and documentation tool, pharmacy training, and a platform for providing resources and capturing daily activity to centralize reporting. The team began the pilot phase on Feb. 15 at the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when select pharmacies in Kansas, Missouri, Oregon and Washington started administering vaccines. As more vaccine doses become available, additional Health Mart locations stand ready to help vaccinate patients through this program.

“Our team worked overtime to quickly and fully operationalize our new program,” says Eyad Farah, President of Health Mart & Health Mart Atlas at McKesson. “We are working hand-in-hand with the CDC to ensure approved Health Mart pharmacies are properly equipped to administer COVID-19 vaccines. It’s required a significant amount of work and coordination, and we’re honored to do it.”

How One Pharmacy Makes a Big Impact

Many Health Mart pharmacies can be found in rural areas where pharmacists are the only care provider for miles. It’s one of the reasons their role is especially important for the vaccination efforts happening today. Local pharmacy teams are developing innovative approaches to address challenges, like lack of internet or access to local physicians, to reach vulnerable patients and bring COVID-19 vaccinations closer to home.

One of these remote areas is Adamsville, a small city in central Tennessee with less than 2,000 people. Forty years ago, Todd Gean, DPh, started Todd’s Discount Drugs, a Health Mart pharmacy, to bring quality care to patients in this community. Today, the pharmacy supports about 400 Adamsville-area patients a week.

They were the first COVID-19 vaccine provider in their community.

Todd's Discount Pharmacy

In early December 2020, Bolton Gean, Todd Gean’s son, applied to the Tennessee Department of Health to become a COVID-19 vaccine provider. The pharmacy team also purchased a new, dedicated freezer to keep the vaccine at the required storage temperature, a digital data logger to accurately monitor the temperature of the doses, and even logged hours on Christmas day to ensure the pharmacy team fully understood the regulations for providing vaccines once they arrived.

And on Jan. 27, they did.

“I saw the vaccine confirmation email from the health department and thought, ‘Am I reading this correctly?’ We were about to embark on one of the most important efforts we’ve led in this community to date,” says Bolton Gean, PharmD of Todd’s Discount Drugs. “I called my dad and I said, ‘It’s go time. It’s here.’”

With a team of five, a tent in a parking lot and a line of community members, the team gave the first 100 doses to residents of Tennessee’s remote and underserved population – and did so in less than three hours. That’s less than two minutes per eligible patient in a town more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to a lack of quality care, such as intensive care units and infectious disease specialists. Since their initial success last month, they’ve administered 900 additional first doses, with ongoing plans to provide 500 doses a week to the community.

“Words cannot describe how thankful we are,” says Ralph Amos, a local resident. “We are extremely appreciative for Todd’s pharmacy to take the initiative and pursue vaccination opportunities for this community.”

Like so many Health Mart pharmacies across the country, Todd Gean takes pride in his role of providing quality care to patients – and that includes this new role of helping his community overcome the pandemic.

“The people who come into my pharmacy are like family, so vaccinating the neighbors I care about so deeply against COVID-19 has been one of the greatest moments of my 40-year pharmacy career to date,” Gean says. “I know we’re just one small piece of a much bigger effort happening across the country right now, but I also know what we’re doing for our community today represents a huge step toward normalcy.”