While many retailers distribute COVID vaccines on a first-come, first-served basis, at least one local pharmacy is going out of its way to prioritize seniors and at-risk populations.
As soon as The Medicine Shoppe of Boyertown got the vaccine in stock, it began setting up clinics at assisted living facilities and, most recently, for Boyertown School District employees who are either 65 and older or have certain health conditions.
"When we got our first shipment, we turned around and gave it to three senior communities within a day," said Ed Hudon, who owns The Medicine Shoppe with his wife, Terry.
Together, the couple is moving aggressively to inoculate the groups who are currently identified as most urgently in need of the vaccine, as opposed to just blindly accepting online sign-ups or waiting for those people to walk through their doors.
"We're having people call our patients, schedule the appointments and help them fill out the consent form so they don't have to stress about doing it," said Hudon.
The Medicine Shoppe's distribution has been so efficient, it ran out of doses last week ahead of a scheduled clinic.
Hudon, a 53-year-old health care worker, was even planning to use one of the pharmacy's leftover doses to inoculate himself, but wound up giving it to a patient headed for chemotherapy instead.
"I liken it to if I'm on the bus, I'll give my seat up to an older person," said Hudon. "We need to advocate for those people at a critical age and need."
It's all part of the more personal approach and sense of community The Medicine Shoppe has built over 26 years.
'We can't push, shove, kick our fellow man'
Stories of line-skipping for vaccines and pharmacies making little-to-no effort to verify patients qualify under the current distribution phase are "disappointing," said Hudon.
Pennsylvania is still in Phase 1A of its vaccine rollout, which targets people 65 and older, those living in long-term care facilities, health care workers and others with specific high-risk conditions.
Yet, with so many pharmacies taking appointments either primarily or solely online, many in those groups are getting left behind.
"Our older population group, either because they don't have technology or don't understand it, it is prohibiting them from being able to register," said Hudon. "And now that this has opened up to a large variety of age groups, they're really struggling to get to the older population.
Hudon would like to hear more stories about people assisting elderly or disadvantaged people in signing up for the vaccine before they make appointments for themselves.
"It takes a team approach and the community to understand we want to get it into arms and are doing best we can, but we can't push, shove, kick our fellow man," said Hudon.
While The Medicine Shoppe is going after seniors especially, that's not to say it isn't inoculating anybody under 65. There is a waiting list to ensure that every dose, once it's removed from cold storage, will find its way into a willing body.
"What we have online is our no-waste wait list," said Hudon. "I refuse to lose a dose at the end of the day, so we call people down that list one by one as long as they qualify for 1A.
"We've gone to people's homes and drove homebound people. I even waited until 7:30 at night because they were next on list and that was soonest they can get there.
"We're trying to do all the right things."
Disappointment tinged with optimism
Being a rare independently owned pharmacy that is a franchise rather than part of a corporate chain also allows The Medicine Shoppe of Boyertown — "small, but mighty," Hudon describes it — more autonomy over how it goes about its outreach.
He wasn't critical of the way competing businesses are approaching the vaccine rollout though, insisting everybody is in this together.
"I can't attest to what other people doing," said Hudon. "All I know is it's important for me to get it in the seniors' arms and those who are in 1A."
Nor can Hudon control how many doses of the vaccine The Medicine Shoppe gets, either. He was happy with the first allotment received, but then shut out of the most recent expected shipment, leading to the canceled clinic.
There's a sense of mixed emotions when he speaks about the situation — disappointment he can't protect more people from this coronavirus, tinged with optimism that more people will be reached soon.
"We just have to be kind and patient and it will work its way out," said Hudon. "And this is coming from a guy very disappointed not getting my shipment."
Whenever the next shipment does arrive, The Medicine Shoppe will immediately get back to doing what it does best — championing and treating the neediest people right in its own backyard.
"I would hope people start advocating for their neighbors and those who really need it," said Hudon. "We haven't got all the nursing home patients done yet. We haven't got all the medical staff done yet. It's just a matter of getting more doses from the manufacturers.
"We know what our patients' needs are, and we've been part of this community, so we don't want to let the community down."