Independent Pharmacist Fights for Vaccine Access for Her Rural Community
Ashley Seyfarth, PharmD, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at a drive-through clinic in Bloomfield, New Mexico.
As the State of New Mexico prepared to receive its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, public health officials had decided all the doses would go to the major pharmacy chains, which would be solely responsible for vaccinating residents. But this was unacceptable to Ashley Seyfarth, PharmD, owner of Kare Drug, an independent pharmacy with locations in the rural towns of Aztec and Bloomfield.
Seyfarth took it up with public health and state government officials in a town hall meeting held via Zoom. “I said, ‘You’re telling me that the chains are going to take care of everybody, but I have no chains in the two towns that I serve. There is nobody here to do vaccines. So you’re going to give me vaccine, so that I can take care of my community, right?’”
A general in the National Guard, who was present on the video call, took Seyfarth’s appeal to heart and ensured that Kare Drug received a share of the state’s vaccine supply. Within a week, Seyfarth and her pharmacy team had pulled off a huge, appointment-free, drive-through COVID-19 vaccine clinic for anyone aged 75 years or older; the team vaccinated more than 300 people.
Over the next few months, as more and more New Mexicans became eligible for the vaccine, Seyfarth continued to run low-barrier events that required no appointment, no internet, no smartphone access, and—because the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine was used—no second shot.
“By requiring people to register for appointments through an app, the State of New Mexico was missing a huge piece of our population: very rural people and our 65 and older population,” Seyfarth said. “I was just fighting for my rural community.”
Over one in five New Mexicans lives in a rural area. Nearly that many are older than age 65.
At each of eight drive-through COVID-19 vaccination events, Seyfarth, her pharmacy staff, and health care professional volunteers from the community vaccinated an average of 300 people per clinic.
Although Seyfarth successfully targeted a segment of the population eager to get vaccinated against COVID-19, she encounters plenty of reluctant patients, too. The most common concern she hears is that the mRNA vaccines came out too fast without sufficient research behind them. Every time a patient expressed this concern, Seyfarth explained that Moderna alone already had mRNA vaccines against another virus in phase II clinical trials at the onset of the pandemic. The pharmaceutical company simply needed to use the same technology to create a vaccine against this new virus.
Determine the particular concerns that a patient may have about the COVID-19 vaccine. Then you can share the specific facts related to those issues.
Seyfarth explained this crucial detail to so many patients that eventually she recorded a video in which she reviewed some of the research behind the new vaccines and answered all the common questions she had been fielding by phone. From then on, whenever appropriate, Seyfarth referred callers with internet access to the video, which she posted on the pharmacy’s Facebook page.
“This was information that people were seeking but couldn’t find because it takes a little more persistence and it takes knowing where to look for accurate information,” Seyfarth said. “So people were really grateful to get this information.”
It was important, Seyfarth said, that the video address specific questions that patients were asking. “You can’t just say, ‘You need to get the vaccine because you need to get the vaccine.’ You have to be specific. You have to ask. ‘What exactly are you hesitant about? What piece can I talk to you about so I can give you the facts rather than all that misinformation that is out there?’”
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