Pharmacist Brings Convenience to His Community to Encourage Vaccine Uptake

Aden Casey, PharmD, preparing for a community immunization day at a senior center in northern Minnesota.

“People have different comfort levels with the vaccine, so you have to meet people where they are. Someone may not be willing to get a vaccine if it means they have to go online, schedule an appointment, and make time [for the appointment],” said Aden Casey, PharmD, a 2020 graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. “But they may be more willing if they’re at home one day and know somebody is coming to their apartment building to give vaccines. If you make it easy for people, it’s harder to say no.”

Casey Drug in Chisholm, Minnesota, is a trusted, independent, family-owned, community pharmacy founded by Casey’s great-great-grandfather in 1905. He and his sister, Alida Casey, PharmD, are fifth-generation family pharmacists.

With a population of fewer than 5,000 people, the residents of Chisholm are predominantly elderly and socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals. “We’re the only health care service in town other than a dental office. So, no clinics or hospitals—and the nearest clinic is about 10 miles away,” said Casey.

The small-town feel has bolstered Casey Drug’s vaccination efforts. When people see others they know and trust get the COVID-19 vaccine, it helps convince vaccine hesitant people most. “One time at an apartment building, I had a few people lined up to get the vaccine, and a lady walked through and scoffed saying she didn’t want it,” said Casey. “A couple of her friends who were getting the vaccine playfully harassed her, trying to get her to take it.”

“She came up to me and asked some questions. I heard her fears, empathized with [her], and answered her questions. We had a nice chat,” said Casey. “Eventually, she did end up getting the vaccine.”

Casey reached out to his community through social media posts and phone calls to organize 11 on-site vaccination clinics for senior apartment complexes, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities across northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. Most doses were given at Chisholm Senior Citizens Center a couple days each week, with more than 300 people vaccinated each day on multiple occasions.

Especially in the initial month when COVID-19 vaccines arrived at Casey Drug, the older population was eager to get vaccinated. “Many people 65 years and older were very excited, appreciative, and thankful for the vaccine,” said Casey. “In the first three weeks, we [scheduled] appointments as they came. It was mostly people calling our already busy pharmacy—50 to 100 phone calls a day!”

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To ramp up the number of health care professionals to give the shots and get the COVID-19 vaccine out to more people in his community, Casey set up a collaborative practice agreement to allow nurses licensed in Minnesota to vaccinate under Casey Drug’s pharmacy license. Community volunteers also engaged with the vaccination clinics to assist with patient intake, guide patients between stations, and provide routine cleaning of surfaces.

Casey set up an online scheduling system to allow technologically capable people to sign up more efficiently. The pharmacy posted on its social media accounts letting the community know when vaccination appointments were available and how to sign up. “Early on when people were struggling to find appointments to get a vaccine, we would post availability on Facebook. It was shared all over, and we’d fill up right away,” said Casey.

Additionally, the pharmacy offers curbside immunizations to further provide convenience for the community. “If you pull up outside our store and give us a call, we will come out and give the vaccine to you while you are in your car,” said Casey. Since many unvaccinated people had fears about going into a store or public setting and getting the virus, “quite a few people actually drove from fairly long distances just to utilize that service,” he said.

As of June 2021, Casey Drug has given nearly 6,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to people from Chisholm and surrounding communities, with about 1,500 to 2,000 of those doses going to community members 65 years and older.