Imagine what medical care was like before vaccines, anesthesia and other
life-saving treatments. That was the reality just a generation or two
ago. Last year, the world experienced a similar feeling of powerlessness
when COVID-19 raged across the globe. As doctors scrambled to find treatments,
the pandemic hit close to home for Tim Tyre, R.Ph., MHS, director, and
Jennifer Lewis, R.Ph, manager, Southeast Georgia Health System Pharmacy
Reflecting on the biggest challenge his team faced last year, Tyre says,
“The unknown. Physicians were constantly searching the web for medications
‘believed’ to be effective against the virus. People all over
the world were doing the same thing, making the latest wonder drug in
short supply or unavailable. Acquiring these medications was very challenging,
beginning with hydroxycholoroquine and then Remdesivir and various combinations
While Tyre and his fellow pharmacists dealt with frustrating shortages
and disappointing data on drug efficacy, they never stopped pursuing viable
Though the COVID-19 vaccine brought welcome relief, it expanded the team’s
responsibilities exponentially. Each day, Tyre, Lewis and the pharmacy
staff juggle the management of temperature-sensitive vaccines and ongoing
demands for new COVID-19 treatments along with all of their pre-pandemic duties.
A 24/7 Presence
In a hospital pharmacy, someone must be available 24/7, 365 days a year.
The long hours are worth the effort. “We have a significant impact
on the life of every patient. The pharmacy plays a major role in treating
all Health System patients, including but not limited to those in the
operating room, ICU, emergency department, outpatient chemotherapy, infusion
center and inpatient nursing units, as well as the COVID units,”
The pandemic required extraordinary effort from every Health System employee,
including the pharmacy team. On many occasions, they left the confines
of the pharmacy and made rounds on the intensive care units. “Our
pharmacists became very engaged in the treatment of severely ill patients,
many of whom were on ventilators. Some of these patients recovered after
months of intense treatment and care, while others were not so fortunate
in their fight against the virus,” recalls Lewis.
Fighting on the frontlines of COVID-19, Tyre and Lewis led their department
through rapid turnarounds and drug shortage obstacles. “Daily huddles
with Health System leaders and within the pharmacy were key for communication.
The constant communication continues between the pharmacy team and physician
leaders,” Tyre explains. Working together, they created a new process
for ordering, distributing and keeping current inventory of the vaccine.
“It is a tedious but beneficial process that allows us to monitor
our stock and maintain necessary data,” Lewis says.
At the height of the crisis, pharmacy leaders decided to give the Health
System a strategic advantage in the vaccine rollout. Six months before
the vaccines were released, they purchased an expensive ultra-cold freezer.
“That allowed us to acquire, store and administer a large quantity
of vaccines. The Health System has administered over 38,000 doses of the
vaccine to date, and we continue to offer it, free of charge, to everyone
age 12 and older,” Tyre says.
A Healthier Horizon
It’s hard to see any good emerging from 2020, but medical professionals
do find silver linings. Virologists say COVID-19 greatly advanced their
understanding of viruses. Health System administrators streamlined processes
to achieve greater efficiency. The pharmacists believe “The pandemic
resulted in heightened education of the general public which should help
us slow the future spread of viral infections including the common cold,
influenza and COVID-19,” Tyre says.
Southeast Georgia Health System offers COVID-19 Pfizer vaccines for all
individuals age 12 and older. Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins
are accepted. To learn more or to make an appointment, visit sghs.org/covid19-vaccine.