- Ambar Keluskar uses innovative approaches to use unused doses in his neighborhood pharmacy.
An Indian American pharmacist is being lauded for his innovative approach to get COVID-19 shots in the arms of seniors in his neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Ambar Keluskar, a supervising pharmacist and vaccine coordinator at Rossi Pharmacy in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, was left with 200 doses of unused vaccines, which were “just sitting in the freezer.” With a decrease in the number of people coming to the pharmacy to get vaccinated, the 28-year-old began conducting pop-up vaccination events at senior affordable housing facilities.
Keluskar told American Kahani that the pharmacy has been giving the shots since January, but by early March there’s been a decline in the number of people registering for the vaccines. One of the reasons for the steady decline, Keluskar said, is because of the state imposed restrictions on retail pharmacies like Rossi, which allows them to only vaccinate people over age 60 and teachers. Another reason, he believes, is the opening of a mass vaccination site near the pharmacy.
Along with these challenges, Keluskar said they had to initially deal with vaccine hesitancy in the community. “We are also dealing with vaccine hesitation in the Black and Latina communities, as has been widely documented,” Keluskar said. However, over the last two months, they have been able to reach out to them, explaining the benefits of the free vaccine, he added.
Determined to not let the 200 unused vaccines go to waste, Keluskar decided to approach innovative ways to reach out to those who were eligible in his area. He did a couple of house calls, called patients listed with the pharmacy, and began reaching out to community organizations who have been working to get more and more seniors vaccinated. For this, the pharmacy spent hundreds of dollars on Facebook ads. “Just spent 300 on Facebook ads to try to fill covid vaccine appts with seniors because the state requires I turn away under 65 even with health conditions or essential worker status,” he tweeted on March 3.
To utilize the 200 doses within seven days, Keluskar said he “relied heavily” on local lawmakers and community groups. One such connection came earlier this month from State Senator Jabari Brisport’s office. Through that contact, Keluskar told The New York Times that he vaccinated ‘almost 50 people at a senior affordable housing complex near Downtown Brooklyn.” Last week, he vaccinated “more than 150 people at Ingersoll Houses, a public housing complex in Fort Greene.” He told the Times that his pharmacy “was operating at a loss after investing about $15,000 in equipment, such as a freezer, needed to handle COVID-19 vaccines.”
Keluskar has taken to Twitter to express his frustration over state restrictions imposed on retail pharmacies. On March 3 he wrote: ‘Not a single dose of COVID vaccine will ever be wasted at my pharmacy. What is being wasted due to the 65+ rule is hours of operational capacity. We could’ve easily vaccinated 70 or more people today but instead, we could only find enough patients for one complete vial.”
In another tweet, he said: ‘My team and I could be vaccinating people, instead we’re spending time and money on things like advertising and cold calling.”
My team and I could be vaccinating people, instead we're spending time and money on things like advertising and cold calling.— Ambar Keluskar, PharmD (@ambarkeluskar) March 4, 2021
Keluskar realizes the impact of his outreach and says he could vaccinate more people if the state lifted restrictions on pharmacies. He says he wants to continue the good work and reach out to more and more people, and the “15 minutes of fame,” sure helps to spread the word.
Bhargavi Kulkarni has been a journalist for nearly two decades. She has a degree in English literature and French. She is also an adventure sport enthusiast, and in her free time, she likes to cook, bake, bike and hike.