College of Pharmacy Partner Says Preparedness is Key

Laura Schwartzwald portraitMy name is Laura Schwartzwald and I am the co-founder of GuidePoint Pharmacy. GuidePoint Pharmacy is a small chain of community pharmacies located primarily in the rural areas throughout Minnesota. Much of my job function involves working as a community pharmacist, precepting for students from various colleges of pharmacy, and managing our enhanced clinical service network throughout our pharmacies.

However, one of my passions has been in the area of public health with an emphasis on immunizations and pandemic preparedness. Fellow Minnesota pharmacist, Michelle Johnson and I have been working for over a decade at the local, state, and national level to develop strategies in the event of a pandemic emergency. Along the way, we’ve served on several task forces and traveled to national conferences to gain knowledge for a crisis. Additionally, we worked with the Minnesota Department of Health to organize a day long pandemic preparedness workshop between pharmacy and public health at a MPhA learning event. We also developed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between MDH and pharmacy to help pharmacists understand what will be expected of us during the immunization phase of a pandemic. 

Since 2012, I have been fortunate to have the privilege of serving on the governor-appointed Minnesota Immunization Provider Advisory Committee. I was able to learn at an early date what risks we had for COVID-19 becoming a pandemic in the United States and take steps at our community pharmacies to minimize the risks. Much of the fear that we were seeing seemed to stem from people not knowing what to expect or what to do. This was not an unforeseen event, and while the pandemic didn’t quite present in the form that we had anticipated, we were not totally unprepared. 

GuidePoint Pharmacy had developed protocols that were put into place at the initial stage of the pandemic and we have continued to update the protocols frequently along the way. Like many other pharmacies, we have gone to curbside or drive-thru service and require the use of personal protective equipment for all our employees. We’ve limited the number of pharmacists and technicians allowed to work with each other and changed our working hours to schedule their work in “shifts” to avoid cross contamination with one another. Finally, we have spent many hours in phone meetings and webinars engaged in exchanging “best practice” ideas with fellow community pharmacists across the country. Minnesota has been able to minimize the spread of COVID-19 because of the continued diligence and commitment from our citizens in following the CDC guidance with “social distancing” and abiding by the “stay at home” order issued by the governor. 

We’ve heard frequently that practices like these are our current weapons against the virus. We do not yet have an approved vaccine for the virus. However, there are several in development and one at the trial stage. Hopefully, we will get to the immunization phase of the pandemic in the not-to-distant future. Once we get to that phase, the pharmacy profession will have a lot to do in a relatively short time frame. We will be a critical part of the healthcare team involved in immunizing at least 80 percent of the United States population with at least a two-shot adjuvanted series in four months. That is a monumental task, but one that I believe we can accomplish. I encourage anybody who is currently involved in giving immunizations at the community pharmacy level to please read and familiarize yourself with the MOU and learn what you will be asked to do. We may not have been as prepared as we would have liked to be in stopping the rapid spread at the beginning of the pandemic. But let’s do our part to get ready for the next stage so we aren’t scrambling when it arrives! 

For anyone interested, here is a link to the MOU:   https://www.health.state.mn.us/mou/