The difference between a COVID-19 vaccine at a big site and a small pharmacy? For workers, it’s a lot

Hosna Jami administers a vaccine at KC Pharmacy, in Lorton, Va. “It’s like an honor,” she said. (WTOP/John Domen)

Last week, a steady stream of people came into KC Pharmacy, in Lorton, Virginia, a small drugstore nestled among medical offices not far from I-95. They came in and out pretty quick, their arms maybe a little sore, after getting doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Is there a difference in going to a big chain or to a smaller, independent store for a shot? For you, probably not. But for the employees at smaller stores, it means a lot of extra work.

“Early in the mornings we have to go get the shipment, and then prepare it, get it thawed out,” said Hosna Jami, a manager at KC Pharmacy. All the prep work, including getting the syringes ready, is all on them as well. There’s also scheduling, and, before Virginia entered Phase 2, they had to determine eligibility.

Jami has also spent a few evenings along Lorton Station Boulevard, flagging down people out for walks to come in and get vaccinated, so that no dose goes to waste.

The work isn’t over after a shot is administered. The customer gets to leave, but for the pharmacists, “it’s a lot,” said Gihan Seraka, who owns the store.

As they work with federal and state vaccination suppliers, there’s also the paperwork — a lot of paperwork.

“I have to sit down after hours and get all the arms registered” with the various health departments, she said. “If they don’t see [the numbers], they don’t ship the order the following week.”

In fact, the administering of the shots is the easy part: They’re used to giving out flu shots and some of the vaccines required of people traveling internationally – except when the patient is scared of needles.

“I have men who are like 200, 300 pounds and they’re just so scared of that needle,” said Jami. “I have this technique where I calm them down, I have a little conversation with them… and then I slowly give the vaccine to them.”

Seraka said she’s had to make additional full- and part-time hires – which is costly. But she also recognizes the overall positive impact that comes every time an arm gets jabbed.

They typically dole out about 100 COVID-19 vaccines every day, so at this point they’re now in a lot of selfies – which are allowed – and they’re also the recipients of lots of hugs, which might be a little less permissible if it’s planned out. But they understand, too.

“It’s like an honor,” said Jami. “To have that feeling is just amazing.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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