Pharmacist Cary volunteers to vaccinate near farm workers

After working for corporate pharmacies most of his career, Dr. Jin Lee decided to open his own pharmacy in Cary.

Lee and his wife have lived at Apex since 2008. But being able to serve his community on a personal level, he found, was not something he could achieve in a large corporation.

“I wanted to go back and practice pharmacy like it was in the past when it comes to customer service and bring that to, you know, our community,” Lee said.

Along with his fellow pharmacist, Dr Alfred Catolico, Lee opened DJ’s Pharmacy in July 2020, just months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It took a long time to get the council and construction permits,” he said. “We were finally able to open on July 23, 2020 in the midst of a pandemic. “

Lee has applied to be part of state and federal immunization programs, and DJ’s was approved as a Moderna vaccine supplier in February 2021.

But by June, he said, anyone who wanted a local vaccine had probably gotten one.

So Lee began to wonder about other areas where people might need his help.

Vaccines for migrant workers

A client told Lee that she had volunteered for the Episcopal farmworker ministry in Newton Grove, about an hour south of Raleigh.

Around the same time, Lee began receiving notes from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services regarding their farmworker health program and the COVID-19 farmworker vaccination plan. .

Lee’s client introduced him to the ministry’s Larissa Garzón, and in July, the DJ pharmacy was arranging to go out on weekends.

Seasonal migrant workers, like many immigrants to the country, have limited transportation to get to health care. Language barriers complicate matters, as Lee knew firsthand.

“I was born and raised in South Korea. I came here when I was in high school, ”he explained. “My parents still have language barriers and it took them several months in Michigan to find a vaccination location where they could get the vaccine. “

Since July, Lee, Catolico, and other health volunteers have spent weekends at the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry immunizing hundreds of migrant workers, their families, and another Spanish-speaking immigrant at pop-up clinics at the headquarters of the ministry and in neighboring businesses.

From April to September, thanks to independent pharmacists and volunteers, 26,500 doses of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were administered, with 13,950 people fully vaccinated, according to DHHS. That’s 883 doses on average per week.

“Without Dr Lee,” Garzón told a clinic in September, “we really couldn’t reach the most vulnerable people – these people without papers and cars, these people who come here on an H-2A visa. (for temporary farm workers) and do not have transportation to get to events like this.

“We can go to where they live, we can serve them, sometimes from 6 to 9 pm because that’s when they are done working,” she added. “We are very grateful to him and his team.

Access to vaccine

During a pop-up vaccination event on September 4, Leonidas Antonio Rivas and his wife, Maria Chevez, strolled through the multi-purpose shelter in the middle of the Episcopal Farmworkers’ Ministry campus.

Rows of chairs were set up six feet apart for the short period of observation after people were shot. After the 15 minutes were up, people rushed to nearby tables to buy homemade fresh corn tamales, groceries, gift cards, books and school supplies.

“We always have groceries for them, we have $ 25 gift cards so they can pay for their gasoline, then we have a lot of things for their children, like books, games and backpacks this time around. here, “Garzón said. “Other times we have things like emergency kits, because it’s hurricane season. So these are really the gifts we have.

These extras make the migrants’ visit worthwhile, Garzón says, because missing a job to get vaccinated could mean not being able to put food on the table or provide for their families.

Rivas and Chevez have joined the ministry since the early 2000s. That day, they received their first dose of vaccine. Both of their hands were full as they made their way to their truck.

“It’s good to have (the vaccine) here. It’s close and they are taking good care of us, ”Rivas said in Spanish, raising his hands to show the items he had received.

Evelin Andino, who is pregnant with her second child, agrees. She lives nearby in Clinton and received her second dose of the vaccine.

“I came here to protect myself from the virus, but it is a great service that they are doing to the community by facilitating the vaccination,” she said.

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