When the Covid-19 vaccine first became available, Salisbury residents, like so many people everywhere, had a tough time booking appointments. Tom Vassel, who owns Carman Drugs with Robert Galli, said he wanted to help his customers who called often, inquiring about whether his pharmacy would offer the vaccine.
Although Vassel moved to the Town of Huntington a decade ago, he said he remained connected to Salisbury not only because his pharmacy is there, but also because it’s where he grew up.
After vaccine distribution sites were announced — the Javits Center in Manhattan, Jones Beach, Stony Brook University — Vassel repeatedly called the State Department of Health, requesting that the vaccine be delivered to his pharmacy. At the same time, he assured his customers, many of whom said it would be difficult to travel to the mass vaccine sites, that he was making every effort to provide a more convenient location.
When his efforts paid off, Vassel was jubilant. “We felt special when we had it,” he said. “We’ve been vaccinating people for the past few months, every Saturday and Sunday. We’re happy to help.”
The pharmacy is still open on weekends to customers seeking prescriptions and the myriad other items Carman Drugs carries. Only part of the space is sectioned off for those being vaccinated. The pharmacy receives 1,000 vaccines at a time, which have a shelf life of one month. Matt Flaherty, one of seven pharmacists, said that 200 people were vaccinated last Saturday, and 180 on Sunday.
On the weekend it is Flaherty’s job to sign people in, give them the small white card that indicates they are receiving the Moderna vaccine, and then direct them to those doing the inoculating. Everyone involved in the process is associated with the pharmacy.
Elizabeth Vassel, a registered nurse and Tom’s wife, administered the vaccine on Sunday, as did Emily Linehan, a pharmacy intern. “I recognize some of the people as our customers,” Linehan said. “It’s nice to see familiar faces, and they’re all so appreciative of our business.”
It was quiet in the pharmacy on Sunday, and there was little to no wait for a vaccine. After receiving it, people sat calmly in folding chairs for 15 minutes, to be sure they did not have negative reactions.
Flaherty said that people told him they appreciated the atmosphere and, really, the entire experience. “As soon as they see we’re well organized and nicer than the big-box stores like CVS, they’re happy they came here,” he said. “And they may consider using us as their pharmacy, if they don’t live too far away, after this experience.”
Jean Bevante, a lifelong Salisbury resident, said she was very happy she came to Carman Drugs for her shot. “I’m not sure I would have gotten the vaccine if I had to go far away to get it,” she said. “It was painless. I didn’t even know when [the nurse] was done.”
It took Christine Wilkie two tries to get an appointment, she said. She lives less than a mile away, at the Knolls, a residential community. “It was painless getting the vaccine,” she said. “And even if it did hurt, who cares?”
On Monday, Vassel said he believed that things were changing. “I called the first four people on our waitlist today, and they said they already got an appointment,” he said. “I can see the vaccine is more available now.”