Community Pharmacist Brings COVID-19 Vaccines to Remote Places in New Mexico

Uri Bassan, PharmD (center), with the Mora Shot Rangers, members of the small northern New Mexico town of Mora who helped coordinate and staff the town's pop-up vaccine clinic at a motel/RV park.

In the early days of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Uri Bassan, PharmD, ran pop-up vaccine clinics in underserved areas of New Mexico on behalf of his employer, a chain supermarket pharmacy. But when the boss told him it was time to return to the pharmacy and get back to filling prescriptions, Bassan declined.

“I wasn’t ready to do that,” Bassan said. “COVID wasn’t over yet, and the need to provide health care to rural New Mexico had not diminished.”

Bassan partnered up with Best Buy Drugs, an established, local, independent pharmacy, to launch Foothills Pharmacy Services, whose sole business is pop-up vaccine clinics wherever they are needed throughout New Mexico.

In rural areas, access is the major barrier to vaccine uptake, says Bassan. His mission to eliminate that barrier has proved to be worthy.

At a motel in the northern New Mexico town of Springer, where Bassan was running a COVID-19 vaccine clinic, the front-desk clerk asked Bassan what brought him to Springer. Bassan replied that he was running a clinic and offered the man a vaccine.

The man’s eyes widened.

“He said, ‘I swore to my wife that I wouldn’t get the COVID vaccine unless somebody walked through the door and offered it to me,’” Bassan recalled.

That day, Bassan vaccinated the man, his wife, and his mother.

“That’s my whole business model—to make it easy,” Bassan said. He makes it easy for adults and children to get vaccines in various ways.

Bassan brought COVID-19 vaccine clinics to three of the largest public school districts in the state: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Las Cruces.

When public school students are not up to date on the required childhood vaccines, school nurses must track them down and follow up with parents or guardians frequently until the requirements are met. If the parents or guardians don’t comply with the vaccine requirements and have not been approved for a medical or religious exemption, then their child is barred from school.

Bassan connected with school nurses and arranged for them to send the children home with forms for parents to provide signed informed consent for the required vaccines as well as the optional COVID-19 vaccine. Then Bassan vaccinates the students right at school.

By bundling the COVID-19 vaccine with vaccines required for school attendance, Bassan has managed to increase uptake.

“We’ve been treating the COVID vaccine like it’s different from all the other vaccines. By offering it with [required] school vaccines, we’re putting it into the arsenal and saying it’s no different from these others that you already have confidence in,” Bassan said. “You’re taking the controversy out of it.”

Bassan has also changed the way he talks about vaccines.

“We have a tendency to describe vaccines like weapons. Antibodies are foot soldiers. Vaccines are guided missiles,” he said. “Some people are like, ‘Whoa. I don’t want a war going on inside my body.’”

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Instead, Bassan emphasizes the way in which vaccines boost the body’s natural response to a virus. “I think we get a much better response when we explain it that way as opposed to using weaponized terminology.”

More than 2 years after the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in the United States, Bassan isn’t slowing down. He administers the current COVID-19 vaccine primary series and boosters at pop-up clinics around the state.

“Some people who didn’t want [COVID-19 vaccine] before have now seen that the people around them got it and didn’t suffer any negative effects, so now they have more confidence in it,” Bassan explained. Whenever someone comes around and decides to get a COVID-19 vaccine, Bassan wants to be there to vaccinate.

Tools and resources to help Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination and Tailor Your Outreach to specific populations are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.