Pharmacy Workers’ Tasks Increase During Pandemic

Student Employees Deal with Vaccine Calls and Paperwork

Olivia+Hayden+answers+a+call+from+a+customer+at+Don%27s+Pharmacy+in+Little+Rock.

Natalie Shalin

Olivia Hayden answers a call from a customer at Don’s Pharmacy in Little Rock.

A typical day at a pharmacy can be frantic enough- back-to-back phone calls, prescription pickups, and items to restock can make for a busy work day for any employee. Add to that novel vaccines for a pandemic-creating virus, and busy doesn’t even begin to describe the typical day. Pharmacies are scrambling to distribute vaccines as well as answering questions and continuing to function as a supplier of other medicines and services.

 

“As a high school student working at a pharmacy, I am getting a taste of the true impact that COVID-19 is having on the community,” Olivia Hayden, an employee at Don’s Pharmacy in Little Rock, said. “This is my second year working at Don’s Pharmacy, and it has been a complete change of pace since our pre-COVID world.” Pharmacies were considered an essential business when other businesses started to shut down early last year. 

 

Different pharmacies took different approaches during the beginning of the pandemic.

 

“In March, we had people asking if they should be worried about COVID-19 and I hate to admit that our answer was always, ‘It’ll pass in no time!’ Or that it was just another version of the flu. We had no idea, of course, that we were absolutely false,” Phoebe Raborn, an employee at Rhea’s Pharmacy in Little Rock, said.

 

Officials on both a local and national level are responding to the emergency approval of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines by the FDA; managing the distribution of the vaccine in a timely and safe manner is proving to be a balancing act.

 

“In March of 2020, when it seemed as if the whole world had come to a screeching halt, pharmacies became busier than ever.  We were among the few businesses told to stay open while communities shut down,” Hayden said. “The role of select pharmacies, like Don’s, has become very important in distributing both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to members of the community. Don’s has supplied vaccines to nearby hospitals and long-term care facilities, followed by select schools in Little Rock.”

 

With vaccines being shipped locally, typical roles look different in pharmacies. “The new normal at work is filled with COVID rapid tests, vaccine distribution, and hundreds of phone calls concerning anything COVID-related. Pharmacists are taking a lead role by going out into the community to give vaccinations among the prioritized groups,” Hayden said. 

 

Rhea’s Pharmacy is still busier than ever, despite not offering vaccines due to lack of supply. 

 

Phoebe Raborn works to tackle the COVID season at Rhea’s Pharmacy in Hillcrest.

“One thing people want more of is regular OTC medicine and vitamins. My best guess is people are trying everything they can to prepare or avoid catching the virus,” Raborn said, “We actually are one of the few pharmacies that aren’t giving out vaccines, but we do get a lot of people calling to ask to be on a list. At that point we give them names of other pharmacies that might have vaccine openings.”

 

 

Hayden and Raborn’s new roles as high school employees include helping out with curbside pickup, answering phone calls, restocking, adding names to the vaccine waitlist, and assisting people with setting up vaccination appointments. 

 

“I act mostly as the cashier and also answer phones. I sometimes run random errands, but we are always busy, so I mostly am stuck in the store. I package and organize people’s medicines, but we also have a storefront with clothes, jewelry, toys, etc,” Raborn said. 

 

Don’s Pharmacy has been tending to customers’ needs and questions concerning the vaccines while also fighting the supply of vaccines not meeting the demand. 

 

“Our pharmacy is getting non-stop phone calls, with a record breaking number of over 1,500 calls in one 10 hour day. When vaccination appointments became available to the Phase 1B group, our website received overwhelming traffic of thousands of people at once, causing it to crash. Once our website was up and running again, all of our vaccination appointments were booked up in a matter of seconds. A vaccination waitlist was created that is now exceeding over 7,000 people.” Hayden said.