By Zandy Dudiak, Communications coordinator
When Pittsburgh Mercy opened its pharmacy in 2019, little did anyone foresee that its pharmacists—Mackenzie Brode, Ashley Myers, Jerry Pasquale, and Joyce Toth—would be on the front line of the pandemic vaccination effort.
“We devote two pharmacists every day as vaccinators,” says Andrew Falsetti, pharmacy senior manager. “We all recognize the importance of getting people vaccinated.”
Not only do they help provide coverage for Pittsburgh Mercy’s vaccination clinic on the South 9th Street campus, but also for the majority of clinics held at outside sites.
While Mackenzie, Ashley, and Joyce alternate working in the pharmacy, Jerry serves as the clinical pharmacist and has become “almost a full-time vaccinator,” Andrew says.
As the emphasis has shifted to administering vaccines, two pharmacists work outside the pharmacy each day to handle the vaccination clinic duties. That often leaves just one pharmacist behind to handle prescriptions for Pittsburgh Mercy’s 50-plus locations, making sure changes in prescriptions for those we serve are dealt with, and talking to doctors, when necessary. This can be difficult at times, but the pharmacists have handled it well.
“We’re doing a great job with that,” Andrew says. “The pharmacists are tremendous. They have responded where they were needed and are doing an incredible job. I just can’t say enough about them.”
But even so, Andrew admits the last several months have been “challenging.”
“We still have the responsibility to get persons served their medications,” he continued. “It is harder to accommodate that with fewer staff in the pharmacy. We would ask that everyone be patient with us.”
In all, Jerry estimates, conservatively, that he’s administered vaccines to at least 1,500 people—and provided second shots to most of them. He has traveled to convents, monasteries, nonprofit providers, and other locations to administer the vaccines.
“As with many people within the organization, my day-to-day work has changed drastically,” Jerry says.
“Since we started to receive the vaccine in late December, I have administered vaccines almost every day. The amount of resources Pittsburgh Mercy has devoted to our vaccination efforts shows how much emphasis the organization is placing on ensuring that consumers and colleagues have access to this life-saving vaccine.
“It is very rewarding to meet someone who is very apprehensive or unwilling to receive the vaccine, but is willing to receive the vaccination after speaking with them and addressing their concerns,” Jerry continues. “We have had many individuals return to the clinic for their second injection and specifically request the vaccinator that they had for their first shot because of how positive their initial experience was.”
Pharmacists giving vaccines has only been permitted in the state since July 1, 2006, when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania updated the pharmacy scope of practice to give authority to pharmacists to administer injectable medications, biologics, and vaccines to adults. The practice, which had been limited to doctors and nurses in the past, only took hold in the United States in the last 10 years.
“That was really a big change in the pharmacy industry,” Andrew says. “Old timers” were not trained in school to vaccinate, he says. Generally, they were behind the counter and without a lot of patient contact. In Pennsylvania, pharmacists require a supplemental license (and they also have to be certified in CPR) to do injections.
That shift in being directly involved in health care has been a blessing during the pandemic by having many more vaccinators available to help. While most clinic hours have been during the regular business day, those operating and vaccinating at the clinic have had to work some evening and weekend hours as well.
Last October, the pharmacy team traveled to residential sites to administer flu vaccines to persons served. Andrew says “that really kind of got our feet wet” to administer vaccines on a grander scale than individual shots, including taking the time needed to put people who are afraid or unsure at ease. He is quick to credit the Pittsburgh Mercy colleagues behind the scenes handling scheduling, data entry, and actually setting up the clinic.
The pharmacists have the routine down now. They recognize Pittsburgh Mercy’s focus on underserved populations and that the organization’s mission, in general, is prioritizing those individuals.
“Years down the road, generations will remember this tragic time in history,” Ashley says. “I am happy that I am able to help in some way … to be able to play such a big role in saving so many lives and bringing the world back to some sort of normalcy. This vaccine is our hope for family, friends, and loved ones. It is our light at the end of the tunnel.”