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Health & Science

A Pennsylvania Pharmacist On Her Experience And Role Distributing COVID-19 Vaccines

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In most places across the country, state and local public health departments are leading the effort to get as many residents vaccinated as possible. But in Delaware County, Pa., it's more complicated. County officials say it's the largest county in the nation without its own public health department. To roll out shots, they've had to lean heavily on help from the state, along with hospital systems and local pharmacists like Chichi Ilonzo Momah.

CHICHI ILONZO MOMAH: Initially, when the vaccines were being rolled out, we weren't able to get as much as we wanted, and our waitlist was growing to up to 30,000 names. So I reached out to our House of Representatives. I reached out to some local leaders in our community, and I emailed the Pennsylvania Department of Health every single day just to make noise that Delaware County needs help and we needed help right now.

CORNISH: Independent pharmacists like Momah are often well-positioned to deliver vaccines to underserved communities. Just yesterday, she organized a vaccination event where they gave more than a thousand shots in a high school gym.

ILONZO MOMAH: So out of over 30,000 names on the wait list, we pushed out a sign-up sheet for 5,000. And out of 5,000, we got 1,200 people to sign up.

CORNISH: At the same time, that's a massive waitlist. Does this feel like an uphill battle?

ILONZO MOMAH: It does. Honestly, it does feel like an uphill battle. However, we're just going to tackle it a week at a time. We got more approval for vaccine this week. We're getting another 1,500 dose (ph) tomorrow. And we're hosting another massive clinic on Wednesday.

CORNISH: Can you recall kind of a memorable dose, an experience you had with anyone that really sticks with you?

ILONZO MOMAH: I can recall a lot of memorable experiences. I had a 96-year-old grandma, and it was an honor for me to give her a vaccine. I mean, at her age, to be able to survive this pandemic and still be alive to be able to get a vaccine, and I gave her the vaccine? It was awesome. I had somebody call to say her brother was bedridden and - is bedridden and wanted somebody to go out to their house to give the vaccine. I don't go into the homes, but I was like, can he come out to the porch or the front door? And we've done a ton of home calls like that. And just being able to meet people where they are, it's amazing. It's a blessing.

CORNISH: Chichi, you come from a diverse county. Can you talk about who is hesitating, what you're hearing from them?

ILONZO MOMAH: A lot of people from the culturally diverse community, especially the Black community, most of them are afraid to get the vaccine because they're not sure how they will react to the vaccine. And it is our job as pharmacists to not only educate, but also advocate for them. I've also seen that a lot of people, they're not pushing back, it's just that they don't have access to get the vaccine. Some of them are not computer literate, so they can't get on the computer as fast enough to be able to sign up, and they fall through the cracks. And I also saw some language barriers yesterday, that a lot of people that don't understand English are not able to express themselves. And that also causes a lot of fear in them being able to come out to get a vaccine.

CORNISH: I hope you don't mind me saying this, but you look tired.

ILONZO MOMAH: (Laughter) I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted. I'm overwhelmed. I'm exhausted, and at the same time, I'm happy. So it's good exhaustion, not bad (laughter).

CORNISH: Chichi Ilonzo Momah, thank you so much for speaking with us and best of luck as you continue this process.

ILONZO MOMAH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAUTIOUS CLAY'S "COLD WAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.