At the Oldest Pharmacy in Nation’s Capital, There’s Always Room to Vaccinate
Pharmacist Damika Walker administers a COVID-19 booster shot to a longtime patient at Grubb’s Pharmacy in Capitol Hill.
The owners of Grubb’s Pharmacy weren’t going to let confined architecture stand in the way of their pharmacists vaccinating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. The oldest community pharmacy in the District of Columbia, Grubb’s Pharmacy is located in a historic row house in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. While a charming setting, it is not ideal for testing and vaccinating as many patients as possible at a time when public health officials recommend everyone stay 6 feet apart.
“The owners built an annex onto the pharmacy strictly for administering COVID tests and vaccines,” said Damika Walker, PharmD, Immunization Program Clinical Coordinator and Pharmacist in Charge.
Since COVID-19 vaccines became available, one has been administered at Grubb’s Pharmacy every 5 minutes, from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM, 5 days a week. Today, a year after the first vaccines became available, Grubb’s pharmacists continue to vaccinate at that pace.
While Walker and her team have provided the majority of their COVID-19 vaccinations in the pharmacy’s new annex, they didn’t stop there. They partnered with a local senior facility to provide both COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots. And, once FDA authorization and CDC recommendations came through, the pharmacists from Grubb’s began vaccinating children at local schools. They also vaccinate children in the pharmacy and began offering all scheduled vaccines for pediatric patients, including newborns, through a vaccination protocol with a local pediatrician long before the pandemic.
“The pandemic has made parents more comfortable with getting their children vaccinated in pharmacies,” said Walker. “In the past, parents would get themselves vaccinated for a flu shot, but now they have confidence in pharmacists vaccinating their children. That’s been a game changer.”
As vaccinations are administered predominantly by appointment, Walker sees patients who have already committed to rolling up their sleeves. But COVID-19 testing is very different as the service draws patients with all sorts of beliefs about vaccines. “This is an opportunity to combat vaccine hesitancy,” Walker said. She has developed an effective approach to patients who come in for testing but aren’t ready to get the vaccine.
“You have to meet them where they are,” Walker said. “Give them a space where they feel that they are being heard. Try to understand why they have hesitancy and try to address those needs. Provide the information and then leave the door open.”
For Walker, leaving the door open means letting go of the expectation that she will change a mind today. She addresses patients’ concerns and then gives them time to process the information. That typically means they leave the pharmacy, and Walker doesn’t know whether they will return.
When discussing COVID-19 vaccine concerns with patients, make it personal for them by relating it to their lives and experiences.
Such was the case with a volunteer firefighter who came in for a COVID-19 test. Walker moved down the line of patients waiting for a test and asked whether they had been vaccinated. The firefighter explained that she wasn’t comfortable getting the vaccine and she didn’t understand how it was developed so quickly.
Walker explained how the vaccine had been developed in such a seemingly short time. Then she asked the woman whether she had known anyone who had contracted COVID-19 and what that experience had been like.
“I wanted to make it personal for her and give her something to reflect on,” Walker said. “I kept it conversational and didn’t push anything on her.”
The conversation wound down. The woman thanked Walker for the information, got her COVID-19 test, and left. A few days later, she returned with her boyfriend and her sister. All three got vaccinated.
“She said, ‘If I’m coming to get the vaccine, everybody’s coming.’ It was very exciting to see what can happen just from having these conversations.”
You can find answers to common questions about COVID-19 vaccines and resources to discuss the importance of COVID-19 vaccination with patients through APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.