Auburndale pharmacist wins national award for outstanding service during pandemic

Courtesy of Sammy Yafai

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sammy Yafai, a pharmacy manager at CVS in Auburndale, was recognized for prioritizing patients’ needs and putting in extra hours to ensure they have the best care possible — from tracking down physicians who aren’t operating during regular office hours, to giving vaccinations, to going the extra length to refill prescriptions and more. 

In honor of American Pharmacists Month in October, Yafai was awarded “COVID Cares Pharmacist” at the second-annual Best of the Best Pharmacy Awards on Oct. 1 by SingleCare, the prescription savings service that helps consumers save millions of dollars on medications. 

Yafai began working as a pharmacist at CVS, located at 35-26 Francis Blvd., last November and was promoted to a managerial position in February. 

“This is the ultimate recognition I can get for being a pharmacist,” Yafai said. “When you’re working six to seven days a week nonstop while people were calling out and becoming sick, and helping all of these patients in need — especially during COVID in March and April — where most doctors either stopped working in their office or did everything at home, it became impossible for patients to see them or get prescriptions.”

Yafai went to work every day although he knew there was a risk of contracting the virus, he said. CVS had taken preventive measures making sure their employees were equipped with masks, face shields and gloves. 

“I had to continue working. If I didn’t open the pharmacy, how would all of these patients get their medication? I felt there was a responsibility,” Yafai said. 

There were certain challenges Yafai encountered such as having to live separately from his family to risk jeopardizing their health and safety. 

As more employees were becoming sick and calling out of work, Yafai and his other staff members at the pharmacy had to work as hard as they could to assist patients who were unable to see their doctor. 

“We had a patient come in who was on blood pressure medication and diabetic medication and she ran out of refills,” Yafai said. “The doctor worked in multiple locations, but the regular clinic was closed. We searched for other locations, and we ended up receiving the prescriptions in almost three hours.” 

To show her appreciation, the patient stops by the pharmacy every week to give candy to Yafai and his employees, he said. 

“It was a very stressful time period, but also a proud moment for me because I had an impact in the community,” Yafai said. 

Yafai was inspired by a pharmacy owner who showed him the importance of talking to patients about the challenges they encounter, whether financial or insurance-related.

After dropping out of high school, Yafai began working at a bodega where he met a pharmacy owner. It wasn’t long before Yafai left his job at the bodega, and started working at a pharmacy as a cashier and then became a pharmacy technician. 

“That’s when I started seeing how pharmacists impacted a community and it sparked my interest in becoming a pharmacist,” Yafai said. 

To achieve this goal, Yafai went back to school and got his GED and attended Kingsborough Community College. He later transferred to CUNY Brooklyn College and graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and then attended the University of Buffalo earning a professional doctorate in pharmacy. 

As a pharmacist for the past five years, Yafai said he’s proud and happy to be able to help people. He is also a CVS immunization ambassador for the region, and is pushing for pneumonia and flu vaccinations as the cold season is approaching.  

“We play a major role in helping the community, especially when it comes to vaccinations,” Yafai said. “We don’t only dispense medication, we counsel and make sure people know how to take their medications.”