Lessons from Health Marts that are leading the way in COVID-19 vaccination

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Lessons from Health Marts that are leading the way in COVID-19 vaccination

In brief:

  • About 600 Health Mart pharmacies are already administering COVID-19 vaccines
  • Health Marts are participating in both federal and state COVID-19 vaccination programs
  • Best practices include preparation, efficient workflows and leveraging strong relationships

Pharmacies on the vaccination front lines

Independent community pharmacies are proving their value by rapidly and efficiently administering COVID-19 vaccines. Already, about 600 Health Marts are providing COVID-19 vaccines in their communities through:

  • The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, which includes independent pharmacies and chains in collaboration with the federal government, states and territories. (Approximately 400 Health Marts are enrolled.)
  • State plans, such as in Tennessee, West Virginia and Maine, which are taking advantage of independent pharmacies to vaccinate patients, particularly in rural and remote areas not served by national chains. (About 200 Health Marts are enrolled in state plans.)

Highlighted below are case studies of two Health Mart Pharmacies that are participating in state plans: Griffith & Feil Drug in West Virginia and Todd’s Discount Drugs in Tennessee.

Griffith & Feil Drug, Kenova, West Virginia¹

West Virginia decided to reject a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens and instead has enlisted about 250 independent community pharmacies to provide COVID-19 vaccines, including Griffith & Feil Drug. This Health Mart Pharmacy has been in business since 1892. This isn’t the pharmacy’s first pandemic; in 1918, Griffith & Feil helped West Virginians confront the Spanish flu.

Pharmacist Ric Griffith in front of Griffith & Feil Drug

Using the independent pharmacy model, West Virginia has the highest per capita COVID-19 vaccination rate in the country.²


Todd’s Discount Drugs, Adamsville, Tennessee

In Adamsville, a small city in central Tennessee with fewer than 2,000 people, the first and only provider of COVID-19 vaccines is Todd’s Discount Drugs, a Health Mart Pharmacy. Todd’s is one of about 64 independent pharmacies in Tennessee playing a key role in getting shots into patients’ arms.

On its first day of providing COVID-19 vaccines, Todd’s Discount Drugs gave first doses to 100 patients in under three hours. Pharmacy owner Todd Gean shared, “I’ve been in pharmacy for 40 years and it was the greatest day of practicing pharmacy I’ve ever had.”

3 Lessons from pharmacies on the vaccination front lines

While independent pharmacies are already adept at delivering immunizations, taking part in a COVID-19 vaccination program is different. Pharmacists from Griffith & Feil and Todd’s Discount Pharmacy shared lessons learned from their experiences.

  1. Prepare thoroughly. “No one prepared us for what this would be like,” said a team member at Todd’s Discount Pharmacy. Despite having no playbook, these pharmacies prepared by focusing on:
    • Becoming a COVID-19 vaccine provider requires a formal application, which takes time, as does understanding the regulations associated with COVID-19 vaccines.
    • Storage. Todd’s purchased a new, dedicated freezer to keep the COVID-19 vaccines at the required temperature and bought a digital data logger to monitor temperatures.
    • Vaccination locations. Griffith & Feil Drug held a vaccination clinic at the town high school, while Todd’s Discount Pharmacy gave shots from a tent in their store’s parking lot.
    • Staffing. Both pharmacies took a team approach involving pharmacists, technicians, trained interns and other staff members all working under the supervision of pharmacists. Pulling this off wouldn’t have been possible without a team approach.
  2. Develop an efficient workflow. Every pharmacy needs a COVID-19 vaccination workflow. The workflow can operate like an assembly line:                                                                                                      By having the workflow worked out in advance, these pharmacies were ready when the vaccine shipments arrived and could administer large quantities of vaccines in minimal time.
  3. Leverage relationships. The unique relationships that independent pharmacies have with patients makes a difference when attempting to immunize millions of Americans, many of whom are hesitant to get vaccinated.

The pharmacist owners at both Todd’s and Griffith & Feil noted that their trusted relationships help patients feel more comfortable when getting vaccinated by their pharmacies. A patient at Griffith & Feil said it makes a difference that the person administering the shots is a pharmacist he knows. One of Todd’s Discount Drugs’ patients stated, “I wouldn’t have considered going to any other pharmacy or elsewhere for my vaccine.”

Pharmacies that are not yet participating in the COVID-19 vaccine effort may want to consider participating in the federal or state programs. Also, keep in mind that during the pandemic the federal government is giving pharmacies greater authority to deliver childhood vaccines.

The more your pharmacy does to improve your community’s health, the more your community will view your pharmacy as indispensable.


¹“‘Little Old West Virginia’ Sets Pace on Vaccine Rollout,” Cuneyt Dil, Associated Press, Jan. 19, 2021.
² “How West Virginia Became a U.S. Leader in Vaccine Rollout,” Sarah Mervosh, The New York Times, Feb. 8, 2021.