Regardless of the countless obstacles that lie within our industry, there is a truth that remains at the end of the day for every independent pharmacist. When connecting with Ahmed Atallah, PhD, RPh, this truth became so effortlessly apparent… a desire to help. Fox Drug of Torrance, located in Torrance, CA, began their vaccination journey here, carrying their mindset each day and resulting in true success for their community and business.
The process to become an authorized COVID-19 vaccine provider was labor intensive. Ahmed elaborated on the work that took place over time to register with the state of California and CDC, order and receive new freezers and temperature monitoring systems, and organize billing. After completing these requirements, the pharmacy had finally received their first vaccine shipment of Pfizer on March 30, 2021. This shipment of 1,170 doses was supplied by WSPC wholesale partner, AmerisourceBergen.
Ahmed shared, “The minute we had received our shipment, became a verified provider on vaccines.gov, and advertised on our website and social media, all appointments were booked within four days”. He explained that the pharmacy had a long list of patients awaiting to hear when they would be vaccinating for COVID. As soon as this information was public, they not only fulfilled this list quickly, but also drew in an overflow of patients within the area and neighboring cities of Southern California. With the help of his two kids, Ahmed adopted an online scheduler that worked seamlessly with his software provider. Once patients went in to schedule an appointment, they were able to download and input their patient information and consent forms, that would then be uploaded to the software system. This eliminated extra work for his staff and allowed the team to operate more efficiently.
Fox Drug did not have to look too far when it came to distributing the vaccine. With a retail space of roughly 7,000 square feet, the idea came to clear an aisle of the store and set up socially distant tables and chairs to utilize for vaccinations. The pharmacy also provided service within their parking lot for those hesitant or unable to walk into the store. Ahmed shared, “It took a lot of coordination, timing, scheduling, and processing after hours to complete, sometimes, 150-200 injections in a day. We were very fortunate to finish Pfizer without wasting a single dose”. To date, the store has given close to 3,000 vaccines, and is still closing out the billing for vaccines they have already administered. There was a good amount of trial and error that existed at the beginning, making calls back and forth with FDS and the pharmacy’s software vendor. It was a long process to figure out what was required, but the pharmacy is hoping to finally get paid now! “Even though this is a set-back, billing was not our concern. The concern was to administer as many vaccines as possible and the rest would have to come later”.
In order to keep up with such a demand, Ahmed had hired on extra employees to help file paperwork, load patient information, and process billing. He shared how consistent his staff was in putting in overtime, “Everyone truly stepped up. They were really excited to be involved in this process and happy to get more people vaccinated”. What proved to be a source of motivation for the Fox Drug team, was the outpouring of appreciation they received from the community. From verbal recognition to social media comments and reviews, this really kept staff going and validated what they were doing was important. “This is what we do day in and day out…try to help people, and this (COVID vaccinations) was something additional that fell under our line of work”.
Participating in the COVID vaccination process had an inadvertent, but positive effect on the store’s business. Ahmed shared that the exposure they had, by simply being listed as a vaccine location, helped to increase their customer base. Some residents living in Torrance were even exposed to Fox Drug for the first time! “In the long-run people now know that they have an alternative to Walgreens or CVS for their medication needs. Throughout the years, we have tried so many different approaches (commercials on TV, print media, advertisements) to let our community know we are here, but this has definitely been one the best ways to spread the word and let people know where we are and what we can do for them”.
Ahmed had this to say as he reflected on the year thus far and his experience with the COVID vaccine, “It was very rewarding to be an independent pharmacist through a time like this. Being independent gave us flexibility to accommodate people and do things the way we thought was best for our community. What we have gone through is proof of what pharmacy can provide for people. We were hoping from the very beginning that the government and CDC would realize that the best play of getting vaccines into people’s arms, is by providing it to independent pharmacies. Once we got it, we showed how we could efficiently do just that.”