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Local vaccine rollout now under way

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One hundred doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine arrived at Keezac Pharmacy in Bellmore last week, and 100 more are expected to arrive at the end of the month, according to owner and pharmacist Sam Sheth.

Sheth said he was fortunate to receive the initial delivery, and noted that he had applied to both state and federal distributors to receive a shipment every Monday for four weeks. “It was a long process to register ourselves,” he said, “but on [Feb. 22], we received the confirmation, and by [Feb. 24], we had the shots.”

When it seemed likely that the pharmacy would be able to administer inoculations last Sunday, Sheth and his staff began collecting names of customers to be added to a waitlist. Others were directed to the pharmacy’s website to register online. Ninety percent of the people who received a vaccine at Keezac Pharmacy were regular customers from Bellmore, Merrick, Wantagh and other surrounding communities, Sheth said.

The local pharmacy administered 100 shots to residents 65 and older over four days. Twenty people were inoculated after regular business hours (be-tween 5 and 7 p.m.) last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and the remaining 40 doses were administered last Saturday.

Although converting the pharmacy into a vaccination site in a “very short window of time” was a challenge, Sheth said, for some, it was the most convenient option.

“The importance of the community pharmacy is [we] can really get to the needy people,” he said. “Many people can’t stand in a line for three to four hours or get appointments at all. Here, they come in 10 minutes before [their appointment], then boom, they’re done, and they can go home.”

Unlike CVS and Walgreens, which are contracted by the state and federal governments to distribute vaccines, and began doing so the second week of February (see box), Sheth must request doses directly from the state each week. And while any unused doses were to be reported to the state after seven days, “demand [was] so high that that wasn’t really an option,” he said.

Sheth even conducted one of the inoculations off-site. One of his regular customers, a 75-year-old woman from Merrick, recently suffered a fall that resulted in multiple fractures.

Since the woman could not make it to the pharmacy — “She was completely battered,” Sheth said — he and his assistant, Theresa Graziano, visited her home last Friday to ensure she received her first dose.

“She was so happy when we gave her the shot, and the smile on her face was amazing,” he recalled. “This is where the community pharmacy comes in again — this doesn’t happen at the chain pharmacies.”

North Bellmore resident Sharon LaCentra, 67, was a first-time visitor to Keezac when she received her initial shot. Having “a lot of chronic problems,” she tried to secure a vaccination appointment on other websites “for weeks and weeks and weeks,” to no avail, she said.

“For him to take me in that fast, almost immediately, was great,” LaCentra said of Sheth’s services. “He’s amazing; I can’t thank him enough.”

So far, Keezac Pharmacy appears to be the only locally owned pharmacy in the Bellmore-Merrick area to provide vaccines against Covid-19. In a survey of pharmacies in the neighborhood, workers at Charlie’s Family Pharmacy in Seaford said they had no plans to administer immunizations, while Family Rx Pharmacy in East Meadow and Garfield Pharmacy in North Merrick had attempted to sign up for distribution through the state.

Gabriella Franzese, Garfield’s supervising pharmacist, said her expectations of receiving and administering vaccines in the future are “very low.”

“Since we’re such a small store, we don’t have the space to monitor people for 15 minutes after they get the shot, whereas the big-box stores can block off whole aisles,” Franzese explained. “And with only one pharmacist working at a time, we wouldn’t be able to fill prescriptions if we were also administering vaccines.”

Family Rx owner Max Yunat said, “We’re hoping to receive doses towards the end of March through our vendor, Cardinal Health, but so far, nothing — we’re just waiting.”

Sheth said he planned to apply to receive more supplies so his customers could be fully vaccinated. With the Moderna vaccine, a second shot must be administered four weeks after the initial dose.

To join Keezac Pharmacy’s Covid-19 vaccination waitlist, go to www.bellmorepharmacy.com/coronavirus.