On Wednesday, March 3, Ambar Keluskar posted on the Facebook page for the independent Rossi Pharmacy in Brooklyn: “Covid-19 vaccine available here for all NYS aged 65 and older!! Over 100 appointments available this Saturday and Monday! No lines and easy sign up process!” He bought ads. He talked up the vaccine to customers.

In much of the country, he would have been swamped with responses, if he had ever had an open appointment, but despite being in an area of New York that had been hit hard by the pandemic, Keluskar had hundreds of doses on hand, and few people signed up to receive them.  

As an independent pharmacist, Keluskar said he takes pride in his connection to the community and in his ability to help his neighbors improve their health with advice on sleep, nutrition, vitamins, probiotics, and mental health, as well as filling prescriptions. For the last year, of course, COVID-19 has been a major focus.

“There is no match to the strength of our community when we work together and support one another,” he later posted. “No doubt the last 12 months have been a challenge for us all. OUR COMMUNITY means everything to us!! That is why we stood up to the coronavirus one year ago, AND we will continue to step up to coronavirus as your #fearlesspharmacy. We will always be here for you whenever you need us. Remember: We are all in this together!!”

To keep receiving doses from the state, Keluskar needed to use the ones he had, but New York’s strict limits on pharmacists meant he could only administer shots to people over age 60 years, teachers, and childcare workers, but they were not booking appointments. Keluskar switched up his approach and started taking the vaccine to seniors who needed them.

A referral led him to start his “house calls” at the Stone Wall House, an affordable housing complex for LBGTQ seniors. That attracted the attention of local officials who have helped him vaccinate other older New Yorkers at public housing complexes. It has snowballed since then. Keluskar and his staff had vaccinated more than 2,000 New Yorkers by mid-March.

Taking the vaccine to those who need it protects the individuals and their community and keeps doses coming to the pharmacy. It also solves a vexing problem faced by vaccinators and public-health officials across the country—how to get shots in the arms of the elderly and medically vulnerable who do not live in long-term care facilities but still have trouble traveling, understanding the sign-up process, making appointments online, or calling for appointments because of difficulty hearing well on the phone.

In taking the vaccine directly to those who need it most, Rossi was answering a call from President Joe Biden. “The Administration is directing pharmacies to expand mobile operations into the hardest hit communities to reach more people,” according to a recent White House press release. With those mobile units and others dispatched by federal mass vaccination centers, President Biden said he would work “with states to make up to one-third of each site’s daily vaccinations available directly in the hardest-hit neighborhoods.”

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

« Click here to return to COVID-19 Update.