Discover how a family-owned pharmacy in Virginia is making a difference by providing vaccinations to underserved communities and improving healthcare access for all.

Articulated Insight – “News, Race and Culture in the Information Age”

Dr. Anna Peoples, an African American pharmacist, and founder of Peoples Pharmacy

In Huntersville, Virginia, a suburb of Norfolk, Dr. Anna Peoples, an African American pharmacist, and founder of Peoples Pharmacy, has embarked on a mission to address vaccination challenges among racial and ethnic minority groups and medically underserved communities.

Peoples Pharmacy is the only black-owned pharmacy in this area but, as Dr. Peoples explains, “We have been very instrumental in closing the gap in vaccinating minorities and underserved communities.” She has been a pharmacist for 40 years and opened her shop in 2016 hoping to personalize patients’ experiences.

To get people vaccinated, Dr. Peoples and her medical team partnered with the Norfolk Health Department, Eastern Virginia Medical School, as well as Trusted Partners, a group of 40 diverse pastors and local churches spread across the Norfolk area. Dr. Peoples explains, “For the longest time, we would go out and provide vaccination clinics at their churches.” As of the end of April 2023, Peoples Pharmacy has provided over 22,000 COVID-19 vaccinations.

Peoples Pharmacy doesn’t wait for community members to just come in and get vaccinated; they’ve also partnered with the local shipyards to provide vaccinations on-site.  “We go anywhere there is a need or anywhere we get a request,”

Dr. Peoples explains. Her pharmacy is not a major chain, but a small family-owned pharmacy that has a small group of vaccinators that includes pharmacy technicians, pharmacists, and registered nurses. The nurses are needed to vaccinate children between the ages of 3 months old to 6 years of age. Dr. Peoples calls her pharmacy a “well-oiled machine.”

TARGET AUDIENCE

When Peoples Pharmacy first began vaccinating patients, their target audience was medically underserved minorities who were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Vaccinating everyone was difficult because these communities comprise a lot of people.  Dr. Peoples further defines this challenge: “Once we put our website up so people could make appointments, neighborhoods from Virginia Beach and Suffolk took all the appointments. So, there wouldn’t be any slots left for the people in our community because basically, they have no access to the internet, very few have transportation, so we had to develop a different strategy.”

African American pharmacy Peoples Pharmacy

She says once they came up with a plan, they started having big lines at their pharmacy, and that’s when they also decided to partner with churches. Dr. Peoples added, “just having that relationship with pastors was pretty big for us.”

The pharmacy has also had a lot of support from the Norfolk Public Health Department and the Virginia Department of Health. Dr. Peoples says they had times when they almost ran out of vaccine, and she was able to call the Norfolk Public Health Department for additional vaccine so they would have enough to vaccinate all who wanted to be vaccinated.

She also credits the local media for getting the word out.  The media coverage “brought people out of the woodwork.”

According to Dr. Peoples, trust is an important factor, especially in guarding against misinformation. “We do have the trust of the community,” she says. “When any new information comes out about vaccines, people know they can trust us to give them the correct information.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that there weren’t people who had second thoughts about getting a vaccine. Dr. Peoples says there were a lot of people in their 20s and 30s who weren’t confident about getting a vaccine, along with other age groups. But once they came into the pharmacy, the staff were able to educate them about the importance of vaccination. “Because we were a trusted partner in the community, people would eventually get the vaccine,” Dr. Peoples explains, noting that some people needed more convincing than others. For example, getting people vaccinated from the Naval Shipyard was challenging at times, and according to Dr. Peoples, “We had people offer us $600 to just say we actually got the vaccine.” 

LESSONS LEARNED

Dr. Peoples says she feels good her pharmacy has been able to reach so many people in the community.  Pharmacy staff take the time to provide vaccine education and training for healthcare professionals, as well as offer a menu of different options to their community members. In addition, Peoples Pharmacy prides itself on having vaccines readily available to all Huntersville area residents.

“It may be Peoples Pharmacy, but it is the pharmacy for the people.” –  Dr. Peoples |

Unfortunately, the spread of misinformation surrounding COVID-19 became a hinderance to vaccination uptake in the community of Huntersville. As a result of heightened out-of-context information, Dr. Peoples says she and her team witnessed a significant number of lives lost. This prompted Dr. Peoples and her team to be vigilant and to really push the envelope in terms of getting people vaccinated once they received their first batches of COVID-19 vaccines. Dr. Peoples explains, “We weren’t on the initial list to receive vaccines, and so once we got a hold of them, it was full speed ahead.” 

Being a source of hope to the community is a labor of love for Dr. Peoples. “People know when they come to our pharmacy they are going to be treated like family and be taken care of,” she explains.  Along with administering vaccines, she also ensures that local families that pay weekly visits to the pharmacy are supplied with food to nourish their households, if needed. For over 6 years, Dr. Peoples has created an environment where all are welcomed, and it appears to be one of the primary solutions in forming a well-respected community-action partnership.  Dr. Peoples adds, “When we first started, we would have lines wrapped around the building, and those people have come in for their first and second shots, their boosters, and now they’re coming in for the bivalent boosters, so we do have a following.”

African American patient being treated at Peoples Pharmacy

LOOKING AHEAD and SUCCESSES

Having been in this profession for well over 30 years, Dr. Peoples knows people want to return to a pre-COVID-19 existence.  Although the rates of COVID-19 cases have declined, she says people are “still getting very, very sick from COVID infections – people are still dying.” One of her biggest takeaways: “Do your due diligence, protect yourself, and protect your family. Everyone wants to go back to the way things were before COVID-19, but things aren’t going back . . . these viruses are mutating and becoming stronger, so take care of yourself and your family.” Dr. Peoples hopes her efforts will encourage other pharmacies to provide the same level of services (and more). “It has been an incredible journey that we have been on during COVID-19,” she says, “and I feel that we’ve made a difference in our community as far as getting vaccines into the arms of those who really needed it.” 

When asked about her successes, Dr. Peoples says, “I never looked at this as a success story. I look at it as sowing a seed. I feel like anytime you are helping people, it must come back because you get what you give. We are just making sure we can help as many people as we can. It’s all about helping each other.” With over 40 years of experience, Dr. Peoples’ mission has always been based on providing a more personalized experience for her patients and building a rapport within the community. “When people come to our pharmacy, they know they are not just another number – I personally come out and greet everyone that comes through the door,” she says. “We want people to feel like they are at home when they come to our pharmacy.” 

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