This Oklahoma pharmacist delayed her retirement to help with vaccines: 'It's so important'

Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star

If all had gone according to plan, Shawnee area resident and CVS Pharmacy Manager Carol Cleveland would be retired by now. But when the COVID-19 vaccines started rolling out, those plans changed.

Cleveland has been a pharmacist for 42 years, working for the last 20 of those years in Shawnee.

Originally, she said, she was going to retire in December of 2020 and significantly reduce her working hours. But after so many months of COVID-19 and losing friends, family and customers to the pandemic, when the opportunity came to help with vaccinations, she said she knew what she had to do.

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Starting in December 2020, she helped with vaccines every day in multiple locations, starting with CVS's long-term care facility vaccination program as part of the federal pharmacy partnership and now giving out the vaccine to customers at CVS pharmacies as well. Cleveland has traveled to locations all over the state to administer the vaccine, including Broken Bow, Atoka, Oklahoma City, Drumright and Shawnee.

Carol Cleveland vaccinates a customer.

She said the work is “demanding and very rewarding” and that she feels “very privileged to be part of the solution.”

She, herself, received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in December and the second dose 21 days later.

“What a happy moment, especially after that second vaccine,” she said. “You just feel an absolute relief.”

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She encouraged others to get vaccinated as well.

“This is the highlight of my career, to help make a difference during one of the most pivotal points in history,” Cleveland said. “I especially enjoy educating people about the COVID-19 vaccine, and why it’s so important for people to get immunized when it’s their turn.”

She said many she's vaccinated have been appreciative. There have even those that have shown their appreciation with gifts, including gummi bears, boxes of chocolates, and even a lady who brought a pound cake to the window at CVS.

Cleveland still plans to retire after the vaccines wrap up, adding, “who knows when that will be.”

Once that happens, she said she might travel — listing Antartica as a possible destination — but said she also just wants to see her friends and family and go out to dinner.

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“Same things everybody wants to do, I think,” she said.

She added that she recently met her grandniece, who was born around six months ago, for the first time — a meeting that was made possible by all of the family members having been vaccinated.

“It was an awesome experience,” she said.

And though she put off retirement for a while, Cleveland had only positive things to say about all the work she's put in to vaccinate people around the state.

“Out of 42 years, this is probably the most important thing I've done,” she said.

Carol Cleveland does an elbow bump with CVS Health District Leader Shawn Francis.

Tina Bridenstine is a reporter for The Shawnee News-Star. She can be reached at tina.bridenstine@news-star.com or 405-214-3934. Follow her on Twitter @tbridenstine1