A Love Letter to LeCare Pharmacy and Easy, Breezy COVID Booster Vaccines

Who says vaccination has to be a pain in the bicep?

By Katherine Chew Hamilton October 19, 2022

Thanh Le of LeCare Pharmacy

When I saw the sign go up for LeCare Pharmacy before its opening in April 2021, I was skeptical. The Hollywood neighborhood was already served by a Rite Aid (albeit a slow, decrepit one reminiscent of Big Mouth's Hormone Monster), and there was a Target coming soon—and who could be better than Target, with its siren song of prescriptions, seasonal Reese’s pumpkins and eggs, and cheesy clothes? 

Turns out, family-owned LeCare has not only bested the chain pharmacies, it’s also given me a little more hope in the American healthcare system. In the fall of 2021, to protect myself from the craziness that was the delta variant, I took the opportunity to get a walk-up COVID booster and stood in the seemingly massive line that stretched from the pharmacy’s door on 42nd all the way to the Trader Joe’s parking lot (which, by the way, offers free parking to LeCare patients). Within 10 minutes, Thanh Le, one of the pharmacy’s owners along with his wife Sandy Le, gave me my vaccine, smizing above his mask and joking the whole time. 

LeCare is no longer a neighborhood secret. I’ve boasted about their greatness to friends, I’ve posted about them on my Instagram stories, they’re showing up in work and social Slack channels, and according to Thanh Le, creating a buzz on Nextdoor and the Portland subreddit. It’s a big enough feat that they’ve managed to vaccinate about 45,000 people as of this August, more than any other pharmacy in the state, and Sandy was recognized by the CDC as Oregon’s Immunization Champion. But after talking to Thanh, I learned there’s even more work going on at LeCare than meets the eye. 

When they weren’t giving shots at LeCare, Sandy and Thanh Le were giving covid vaccines around the state at community clinics, vaccination events, and going to hospice patients’ homes. They even took water taxis from the Oregon coast to vaccinate cargo ship workers on the open sea, people from India and the Philippines who couldn’t easily get vaccines in their home countries and who needed vaccines to be allowed on shore in many countries with restrictions. When LeCare first opened, Thanh kept his job as a pharmacist at Kaiser, helping Sandy prepare vaccines first thing in the morning, then driving to work in Salem at lunch. He’s also worked as a pharmacist at Fred Meyer, but he says he much prefers working at his own independent pharmacy. “I can come early, I can do overtime, I can stay late so I can get things done,” he says. “But the downside is, I spend too much time at work!”

During peak vaccination season, that might mean getting to work at 6 a.m. and not leaving until 10 at night.

Volunteers from organizations like the Oregon Chinese Coalition greet patients immediately, process paperwork, and help them get a shot as quickly as possible. For patients whose first language isn’t English, LeCare has staff and volunteers at the pharmacy who can speak to them in Chinese, Vietnamese, or Spanish.

Patients who have mobility issues can pull up to the alley beside the pharmacy and get a shot through the car’s window. Thanh says previous patients have brought vaccine-skeptical family members with them so he can take the time to talk them through their concerns and answer questions—and ultimately, many of them have decided to get the vaccine. “They say, ‘No one has talked to me like this before,’” Thanh says. 

This is the kind of health care I imagine existed widely before the age of colossal health care costs and rushed five-minute doctor’s appointments. These days, the lines for boosters are a lot shorter. I waited less than five minutes to get my most recent shot, my choice of Moderna or Pfizer. (“We don’t have that in California!” my parents wailed last time they visited me here in Portland, after constantly pressing the refresh button online and waiting weeks to get an appointment through Kaiser.)

Despite the long hours, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that all the pharmacists I’ve met at LeCare are patient, friendly, and even funny. Once the rush to get COVID boosters dies down, they’ll focus on helping people keep up with their regular vaccinations, things like shingles, hepatitis, and Tdap—along with filling prescriptions, of course. How do they keep it up after a string of long days? “The patients, every single one that gets vaccinated is super, super happy, and they are really appreciative of what we do,” Thanh says. “That is my cup of coffee.”

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