Philadelphia Area Pharmacist Goes Extra Mile to Reach Underserved Community

Pharmacist Chichi Momah talks with a patient during a pediatric vaccine clinic at Springfield Pharmacy in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

Pharmacist Chichi Momah talks with a patient during a pediatric vaccine clinic at Springfield Pharmacy in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

Throughout the course of the vaccine rollout, Chichi Momah, PharmD, has hit every curveball thrown her way. Springfield Pharmacy’s initial COVID-19 vaccine allocation was a trifling 100 doses a week. Yet the pharmacy had already generated a waiting list of 50,000 people who were eager to be vaccinated. Momah tried every tactic she could dream up until she received a vaccine shipment better aligned with her community’s needs.

“I started talking to reporters. I emailed the health department every day. When I got the cell phone numbers of people who worked at the health department, I began sending text messages. Basically, I became a pain,” said Momah, who owns the pharmacy located in Springfield Township, Delaware County, a suburban area just outside Philadelphia.

Eventually, Momah received thousands of vaccine doses. She partnered with local high schools where she coordinated vaccine clinics that saw 1,200 people a day, twice a week. She brought together 36 volunteers for each event. Clinicians from the community, including pharmacists, primary care physicians, rheumatologists, and orthopedic surgeons, pooled their efforts to get the job done.

“It was a beautiful thing,” Momah said.

The vaccination events reached a great many people; however, they weren’t reaching the most vulnerable members of Springfield Pharmacy’s community. “People were coming from all over to get the vaccine,” Momah said, “but 98% of them were non-minorities. And that’s not what Delaware County looks like.”

Momah realized it would take more than simply procuring the doses and hosting COVID-19 vaccination events in order to get uninsured, underinsured, and underserved people vaccinated. She began to visit churches and mosques to educate congregants about the vaccine. She also partnered with the local immigration coalition and community centers to get the word out and host events.

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Through this targeted outreach, Momah learned about the different barriers that had kept many members of the community from presenting at vaccine clinics up to that point. Undocumented immigrants feared getting the vaccine may create a record of them that could lead to deportation. Some African Americans worried that the vaccine was designed to hurt them as in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Elderly residents of the community struggled to navigate online appointment platforms.

Momah and her clinical and community partners engaged translators from the immigrants’ own communities to dispel their fears about interacting with the health care system. They spoke frankly with African Americans about the scores of White patients who had traveled to Black communities and received the vaccine without harmful consequence. Additionally, they assisted by registering patients who were unable to navigate the online system themselves.

Soon after the adult vaccination clinics began to run smoothly, the FDA approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children, and Momah had to pivot.

“When we went back to the schools to vaccinate kids ages 5 to 11, we had to be a little bit more creative,” Momah said. She didn’t want the event to have the appearance of a clinical setting, so she and her colleagues removed their white coats and donned superhero t-shirts and costumes instead. Vaccinators applied Band-Aids adorned with cartoon characters and sent children away with lollipops and balloon animals.

“We wanted it to feel more like a carnival,” Momah said. “Whatever it took to make it easier for the kids.”

Since COVID-19 vaccine first became available, Momah and her band of volunteers have vaccinated patients of all ages in various settings, including nursing homes, health fairs, houses of worship, and every public, private, and charter school in the county.

—Sonya Collins
December 2021

You can find Community Outreach Tools, resources to Reach Diverse Communities, and information to Tailor Your Outreach to specific populations at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.