With nearly all of the continuing care retirement community's residents and staff now fully vaccinated, through Esterbrook and the federal pharmacy partnership, the two partnered again, this time with a focus on the community's neighbors.
A two-day community COVID-19 vaccination clinic began Monday on the grounds of The Highlands of Wyomissing for those currently eligible to receive the vaccine under the state's Phase 1A category. One thousand doses of the Pfizer vaccine were expected to be administered during the clinic.
"It's going very well, moving along nicely and smoothly," said Michelle Esterbrook, registered nurse and co-owner of the pharmacy in West Reading, Monday morning while she prepared syringes with doses. "It's very exciting to get all these people vaccinated."
Attendees registered for the clinic prior to Monday and went through two check-in points before being directed to one of four portioned off areas to receive their shot.
"We had so many reservations that were available via the internet and those went within 14 minutes," said Kevin DeAcosta, president and CEO of The Highlands at Wyomissing. "This is the first of many clinics we would like to have here at The Highlands of Wyomissing for the general community. We would like to continue to partner with Esterbrook Pharmacy in providing the doses to the general public and we will do so provided the doses are available."
It was a natural fit for Esterbrook Pharmacy and The Highlands of Wyomissing to partner together for this clinic and possible future clinics as vaccine supply allows.
"My two pharmacies (Esterbrook and Outlook) have been filling prescriptions for residents of The Highlands for decades," said Eric Esterbrook, pharmacy owner.
The partnership allowed for an efficient clinic. Along with the vaccine doses, Esterbrook brought four pharmacists and three registered nurses to help with the process. The Highlands of Wyomissing provided its space and a great deal of manpower including staff to help administer doses.
Security helped direct traffic into and out of the parking lot. Staff and volunteers, helped check people in and direct them, with social distancing in mind, through heated tents and into the multipurpose room. Volunteers included fully vaccinated residents.
Once inside, Esterbrook would do another check of the attendee's information and then direct them to one of the available areas to receive their shot. After their shot, attendees were directed to a seat in the multipurpose room by a volunteer where they could wait the required 15 minutes in case of any side effects while listening to music. Then they would go to a table staffed by volunteers where they received their second dose information card. Second doses will be given at The Highlands of Wyomissing and were scheduled for around the same time of day the first dose was given.
"You need a lot of volunteers, you need a lot of people to run a clinic," Esterbrook said. "The efficiency and the flow of people from the time they pull into the parking lot until they get their vaccine, until they wait (after), it's phenomenal."
Getting vaccine into arms
According to Esterbrook, getting the vaccine has been the hardest part of the vaccination process. He said knowing exactly when the week's vaccine shipment will be delivered and how much vaccine will be in the shipment is challenging as he cannot plan a clinic or appointment openings until he knows when he will receive and what his supply will be.
The other challenge, according to Esterbrook, is the pressure from the state Department of Health. Vaccine providers are required to give at least 80% of their first dose shipment within seven days of delivery. Fortunately, clinics such as these make that part of the process easier.
"We got the vaccine five days ago and we're going to have 100% of them administered within that time period," he said. "Once we get the vaccine and set up the clinics, that's going very well. The people receiving the vaccine are extremely grateful. People are in tears, they're so grateful."
People from all over Berks County signed up for the clinic at The Highlands at Wyomissing, Esterbrook said.
One of the first day attendees was Alison Hinrichs, 68, of Wyomissing Hills. Her reason for getting vaccinated was to "feel safe out in the world again."
"It was a breeze," she said after she received her first dose. "There was more anxiety about getting the appointment than getting the shot."
Paul Nahrgang, 54, of Blandon had a similar reason for getting vaccinated and experience Monday morning.
"It was fine, not painful at all," he said after his shot.
Nahrgang had a heart attack last year and wanted to get vaccinated to continue to protect his health as best he can.
For DeAcosta and The Highlands at Wyomissing, the clinics are about being a good neighbor.
"Our organization has always been committed to service and today's clinic is just another example of how we as an organization and a team go above and beyond in its service to people," DeAcosta said. "It's a very rewarding experience. Here at The Highlands of Wyomissing, we understand that this initiative is not about us, it's really about giving back. It's about lending a helping hand to the general community. Ultimately we understand that the quickest way to get back to normalcy is through vaccinations."
Limited vaccine supply has made scheduling vaccination appointments difficult for many. Esterbrook is hopeful that better days are ahead for those struggling to find appointments.
"There is more vaccine coming," he said. "Everyone will get their turn. I am confident that very soon everyone in Berks County will have an appointment. It is getting better. The supply is getting better."