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Meet the Man Who Calls the Shots—and Gives Them

Updated: Jan 21



New York City pharmacist David Su has given thousands of Covid vaccinations
New York City pharmacist David Su has given thousands of Covid vaccinations

The Insider:

Hi David!


David Su:

Hello.


The Insider:

Thanks for agreeing to talk with The Insider.


David Su:

Thank you for inviting me.


The Insider:

I have a feeling that the last year has been intense for you at your pharmacy!


David Su:

It has.

The Insider:

I’m going to ask you a little bit about your background, then I’m eager to hear about your pandemic experience, Where did you study to become a pharmacist?


David Su:

St. John’s University in Queens.


The Insider:

How many years of school?


Nearly 508 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given in the U.S. The greatest number have been given in California; the smallest number in Wyoming.
Nearly 508 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given in the U.S. The greatest number have been given in California; the smallest number in Wyoming.

David Su:

It’s a six-year program. You apply directly from high school.


The Insider:

Where did you go from there?


David Su:

I interned at Joseph Pharmacy in Manhattan while in school Then towards the end of graduation, I joined Rite Aid. I went from a grad intern, and worked up to pharmacy manager


The Insider:

How long have you been at Wellness Pharmacy in Manhattan?


David Su:

Since we opened in 2019.


The Insider:

What is your title at Wellness?


David Su:

Supervising Pharmacist and Pharmacy manager.


The Insider:

So you’re in charge?


David Su:

Yes.


The Insider:

So you’ve seen the whole pandemic unfold there!


David Su:

(Laughs.) Yes.



The Insider:

When did you first realize that the pandemic was going to affect your work?


David Su:

When Broadway shut down, that was around that time when it really hit. I know that we were afraid of it coming into the country at first, but I didn’t need to reevaluate workflow until Broadway shut down.


The Insider:

What happened then? Did people come into the pharmacy or call and ask you what medicine they could take to stay safe?


David Su:

They did


The Insider:

What did you tell them?


David Su:

The basics for cold prevention and viral replication.


The Insider:

I’m guessing you got a lot of panicked calls!


David Su:

I did. Back then, colds and flu were more common than they are now. Tests were harder to come by


The Insider:

More common because now people are wearing masks and getting flu shots?


David Su:

Yes. We were worried that flu season was going to be horrible with Covid, and the exact opposite happened because people took steps to prevent respiratory disease.


The Insider:

What happened when President Trump made his suggestion about injecting a disinfectant like Lysol?


David Su:

I don’t think anyone in New York City took him seriously. No one asked me questions about it. Everyone knew not to do it.



The Insider:

What about hydroxychloroquine, which the president also recommended? Did people ask for that?


David Su:

There were people who were looking for that medication, actually.


The Insider:

And what did you tell them?


David Su:

We had it. At first it was no big deal, but then we started to notice more requests for it, and then realized people were looking for it for Covid-19. They wanted to combine it with Azithromycin, which is not recommended. And then the national hydroxychloroquine shortage started affecting people who needed it originally.


The Insider:

What is its real purpose?


David Su:

Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. And malaria, but no one was traveling. Many people knew that it would be a bad drug. But with any treatment, everyone is supposed to wait for more data to come out. Then Andrew Cuomo put out an executive order stipulating when hydroxychloroquine can be prescribed in the regular pharmacy setting. This made it so that people with rheumatoid arthritis could continue to receive it in the community setting. And people who were hospitalized for Covid could receive it in the hospital setting only


The Insider:

Did you decide early at your pharmacy that if there were a vaccine developed, you would offer it?


David Su:

Yes. We were extremely excited.



The Insider:

When did you start vaccinating people at Wellness?


David Su:

Late January 2020.


The Insider:

And were you personally doing shots?


David Su:

Yes. When we got our first shipment in and the day we started, I had to be there to ensure things went perfectly.


The Insider:

Is that because the vaccines had to be frozen?


David Su:

Not just that. The vaccines had to be frozen, and when they were thawed, they had to be timed. So we had to coordinate it so that we didn’t waste any shots. On top of that, the government had reporting requirements, aka paperwork, which was also timed. And the entire thing was new to everyone


The Insider:

What was it like for you personally to give that first vaccine shot?


David Su:

There was pressure. Pressure to be perfect, which always is the case at my workplace. However, the pressure is greater when it’s the first time we’re doing something.


The Insider:

When you started giving shots, you must have been worried for your own health. Did you wear special protective clothing or equipment to stay safe?


David Su:

A mask and gloves. But I wasn’t gowned up or anything. Everyone was masked


The Insider:

Do you know approximately how many vaccines you’ve done since?


David Su:

A lot!


The Insider:

Your guess?


David Su:

A couple thousand. Before Covid, doing 300-400 shots a year would be pretty normal. But when we started the program in January, and we were worried about vaccine distribution, we would do 200 shots per day.


The Insider:

What was that like for you?


David Su:

Pretty intense.



The Insider:

I’m sure you’ve seen some very interesting behavior over the year. Are most people eager to get a shot, or very worried, or a bit of everything?


David Su:

It depends what part of the year. In the beginning stages of the rollout, the people who came were eager. Later, you had the ones who were worried and wanted to talk about it. And then afterwards, you had those who were getting vaccinated because of a mandate.


The Insider:

Are they angry?


David Su:

By the time they get to the pharmacy, no.


The Insider:

But do they ever say, I don’t believe this works?


David Su:

Some do.


The Insider:

What do you tell them?


David Su:

It depends on where they are in the coping process.


The Insider:

In what way?


David Su:

If they’ve already signed all the paperwork, and I have the needle in hand and they’re willing to take the vaccine, even if they express reluctance, there’s no need for me to have a conversation with them. Because at the end of the day, they’re getting it.


If someone goes out of the way to say ‘wait, I have questions,” then we do question and answer. Because they need to make an informed decision.


With the Omicron surge in New York City, local Covid testing sites have been mobbed. This line was on West 72nd Street, a block from Su’s workplace. The pharmacy is now doing a brisk business in Covid home tests.
With the Omicron surge in New York City, local Covid testing sites have been mobbed. This line was on West 72nd Street, a block from Su’s workplace. The pharmacy is now doing a brisk business in Covid home tests.

The Insider:

Has anyone changed his or her mind and walked out without getting the vaccine?


David Su:

Yes. We just cancel their paperwork. With boosters, they’ll also change which shot they want while they’re sitting in the shot seat.


The Insider:

You must be annoyed by all of the misinformation floating around about vaccines.


David Su:

Misinformation gets annoying.


The Insider:

Have you ever met an anti-vaxxer?


David Su:

Yes. Mostly before Covid. During Covid, in the city, people have seen cause and effect though, so the anti-vaxxers are not as prominent.


The Insider:

What about at-home tests?


David Su:

We’re selling a lot of at-home Covid tests. These are antigen tests, which are dependent of whether or not you have enough detectable antigens in your nose for the test to detect it. If it comes out negative, there’s a 15% chance it’s false negative, which is why it’s good to do a second test at least three days after your first if you really want to be safe. 


The Insider:

The obvious question is whether you’ve been exposed to Covid or had it yourself.


David Su:

I’ve never had it because I’ve taken extreme measures since the beginning. Working in a pharmacy, I’ve definitely come close to it, though.


Pharmacist Su studied six years at St. John’s University in Queens, NY, to earn his Doctor of Pharmacy degree
Pharmacist Su studied six years at St. John’s University in Queens, NY, to earn his Doctor of Pharmacy degree

The Insider:

Do you get tested regularly?


David Su:

In the beginning I did, when there were no vaccines. After I completed my shot series, I only tested when I would see people.


The Insider:

Not sure what you mean.


David Su:

“See people” as in take my mask off. Activities involving eating food together. Even when I’m not at work, I do everything outside of home with a mask on.


The Insider:

A lot of people are wondering now if the vaccines will work against Omicron. We’re all hearing stories of people who are triple vaccinated and still getting Covid.


David Su:

Yes.


The Insider:

What is your answer when someone points to breakthrough cases and says, the vaccines don’t work?


David Su:

The vaccines that are currently out were designed against the original Covid-19 that we were dealing with in the beginning. As time passes and more uncontrolled infections occur, mutations happen that will make it so that current vaccines are not as effective.


The key metric for these vaccines was that it decreased hospitalization and death rate. In the case of Omicron, it holds true for those boosted. So when someone points to breakthrough infections, I’m not bothered by it, because the true value of our vaccines is decrease in hospitalization rate


The Insider:

You’ve undoubtedly saved many lives by giving people those vaccines! I am grateful for your time with us. Many thanks!


David Su:

Thank you for having me!

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