One month into the U.S.’s massive COVID vaccine program, confusion and chaos reign. Federal guidance has been implemented haphazardly on the state, local and facility levels, slowing vaccine administration progress considerably.  In some states, front-line healthcare workers in the 1a group not employed by hospitals remain unvaccinated despite searching in vain.  Kitsap County is bucking the trend, due in large part to the work of two unsung heroes at Peninsula Community Health Services (PCHS):  pharmacists Patricia “Petey” Lambro and Sherry Whitely.

To be approved as a COVID vaccine administration site, each clinic must complete a daunting seven-part application.  The database requires the names of every single person who will come in to contact with COVID vaccine, the make and model of every refrigerator or freezer in which vaccine will be stored, and thermometer devices must pass muster.  Next, pictures of the refrigerator and freezer interiors, 3-5 days of temperature graphs, and certificates of approval for each appliance must be uploaded to the central database for inspection and review.  For some clinics, including mine, these applications have sat in limbo for the past month and “must be located” before the state will take action.  Essentially, garnering approval from the Washington State Department of Health to give COVID vaccine is akin to winning the lottery.

This action-oriented duo, or as PCHS CEO Jennifer Kreidler-Moss calls them, the “Petey and Sherry show”, managed to cut through the red tape quickly.  Whitely oversaw planning and coordination with the Washington State Department of Health, finalized contracts, and tied up any and all loose ends to ensure vaccine access.  PCHS had COVID vaccine in hand by Thursday December 17 and eight out of ten PCHS clinic sites had been approved, just three days after the very first Pfizer COVID vaccines arrived in Washington State.  This is the reason Kreidler-Moss refers to Whitely—who wears a different Christmas sweater every day during December—as the “vaccine elf,” because she “makes the magic happen” behind-the-scene.

Kreidler-Moss shared that “no job was too big” for Petey, who served as the public face of the vaccination effort.  Her efficient, no-nonsense approach ensured all PCHS staff were vaccinated by the afternoon following arrival of vaccine.  Embracing the idea “we are all in this together,” PCHS then reached out to community partners to vaccinate as many healthcare workers and first responders in the 1a group as possible, including:  North Mason Fire, Bremerton Fire, Olympic Ambulance, Kitsap Mental Health, and those volunteers performing community COVID-19 testing.

The logistics, side effect profile, and necessary follow-up associated with vaccination is unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetime. The vaccines must be frozen to a degree unfamiliar to many clinicians, doses must be pre-thawed, patients must be observed for 15-30 minutes in the event an unpredictable allergic reaction, and then patients must be tracked down and scheduled to receive a second dose of the very same vaccine product.  When vaccinations number in the hundreds per day and thousands per week, the job probably feels somewhere between overwhelming to impossible.  But not for two pharmacists on a mission to somewhere extraordinary.

Neither Petey nor Sherry had any idea they were being recognized in this column, so Kreidler-Moss filled in the blanks I needed to write it.  Both completed educational rotations at PCHS while finishing their PharmD degrees:  Petey is a diehard Husky fan and graduated from the University of Washington.  Being a mom to three likely explains her knack for getting the job done. Helping patients is what Petey loves most about being a pharmacist.  Sherry Whitely, born and raised in Kitsap County, was inspired to enter pharmacy school after seeing the positive impact her pharmacist father had on his patients.  Anytime a daughter follows in her father’s footsteps, she needs to learn how to make the job her own.  I know this all too well.  Whitely has undoubtedly made her father proud.  Of course, she is a devoted Cougar who shows her Washington State University pride whenever and wherever possible, making Apple Cup weekends filled with friendly rivalry between these two.

Over the past five weeks, by putting in extra nights, weekends, and holidays, Petey and Sherry have expanded their vaccine reach to many healthcare workers and first responders in our community, administering more than 3,000 doses in all.  Petey was even working on New Year’s Day, scheduling second doses for those of us in need.  However, it was on the morning of January 15 when I gained real insight into what Petey and Sherry’s lives must be like lately.  As I entered the vaccine administration room, I saw Petey sitting at a table drawing up dose after dose of vaccine for the recipients on the schedule that day. I have no doubt she drew up close to 500 doses in all.

By the time I headed to my car, after the 15-minute waiting period, the line for vaccines snaked outside and around the building. And while driving to my clinic, the heroic efforts of Petey, Sherry, and the entire PCHS staff really hit home.  By vaccinating healthcare workers and first responders, they will indirectly impact the entire Kitsap community in the coming months.  Every time a COVID shot is given, we should remember it all began with the relentless determination of Petey and Sherry, two pharmacists not only serving their organization but also their community.