Pharmacist Collaborates With Local County Jail to Immunize Inmates Against COVID-19

Pharmacist Chris Schiller (right) with the undersheriff and medical staff at Muskogee County Jail in Oklahoma.

Unlike pharmacies in other states, Economy Pharmacy—a small group of local independent pharmacies with four locations in Muskogee County, Oklahoma—had an overabundance of COVID-19 vaccine doses, with not enough people to vaccinate. This challenged Chris Schiller, PharmD, the CEO of Economy Pharmacy, in his efforts to protect his community from the pandemic. Based on anecdotal feedback from his patients, there was a lot of confusion surrounding the state’s COVID-19 vaccine scheduling system. Schiller said his patients would vent, “‘I signed up on the state website and never heard anything’; ‘I could never get to the state’s website’; or ‘I could never get anyone on the phone from the health department.’”

Since there were many vaccine doses sitting in his stores’ refrigerators, Schiller found other ways to reach out to the community. He set up vaccine clinics to vaccinate Muskogee teachers and school staff, essential employees, and, among other groups, the Muskogee County Jail inmates and workers. “We had done about the first two or three weeks’ worth of vaccines, and I thought, ‘Are there any groups that haven’t been vaccinated or even been offered the vaccine yet?’” Schiller said. “So, I reached out to the sheriff's department and talked to them. They were excited about the opportunity.”

“Muskogee County Jail staff thought it would be difficult to make sure the inmates got their second shot because the inmates could be released or transferred by the time they were due for their second shot. So, we gave the Johnson & Johnson shots to that population,” said Schiller, referring to the single-dose COVID-19 vaccine.

He went to the jail on two different occasions because the population there changes periodically. Schiller noticed that social influence played a large role in whether the inmates felt comfortable getting the vaccine.

“The nurse at the jail would relay to me that [one inmate] is not getting the shot because [a friend] in the same unit says it’s not good for them,” said Schiller, “but seeing a friend trust and get the vaccine increased the likelihood of others to receive the vaccine.”

Schiller had great success immunizing about 95% of the inmates at Muskogee County Jail. Those who got the vaccine were overwhelmingly thankful and appreciative of Schiller’s efforts and the work he put in to bring the vaccine to them.

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There were differing opinions regarding the timeliness of vaccinating this population because of the close contact between inmates and staff; jails can be a breeding ground for COVID-19 to spread readily. Ultimately, protecting the inmates means protecting all the jail workers and everyone in the community from the virus.

To date, Schiller has administered close to 4,700 COVID-19 vaccines to the people in his community—with about 200 of those doses given to the inmates at Muskogee County Jail.