Empowering People With Knowledge to Conquer Vaccine-Related Fears and Anxieties
Pharmacist Rick Peters participates in a video conference call discussing COVID-19 and the vaccines.
“African American seniors have a long and deep history of distrust with the health care community, and it’s broader than the Tuskegee Public Health [Service] experiment,” reflects Roderick “Rick” G. Peters, RPh, co-owner of Quality of Life Pharmacy & Health in Capitol Heights, Maryland. At first, due to health disparities, vaccine misinformation, and an established fear of the health care system, the disadvantaged African American communities he serves were hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Rumors had spread about COVID-19 being a hoax, African Americans having immunity to COVID-19, and vaccines being ineffective for African Americans. Combined with other misinformation during the beginning of the pandemic, these messages did not help patients feel comfortable about the vaccine. Peters said, “We received calls from vaccine hesitant community members who trusted us asking, ‘Can I come to your pharmacy to get the vaccine?’”
Peters and his wife Terri L. Peters, RPh, who co-owns the pharmacy, took the opportunity to convince people and work with local community organizations to get out the message. He said, “We would tell patients, ‘We can’t give the COVID-19 vaccines here because they’re not delivering the vaccines to independent pharmacies in Maryland at this time, but you still need to take it; so, let’s talk about it.’’’
One February evening at an African American church prayer meeting in the District of Columbia, Rick Peters spoke to about 120 congregants on a live phone call. Close to 60 percent of those on the call were senior citizens, many of whom did not have video conferencing technological capabilities. He was invited on the call as an inspirational speaker to spend 15 minutes discussing COVID-19 and the vaccine, but participants were so interested in his message, they kept him on for an extra 30 minutes.
When talking to the church members, Peters highlighted scripture passages that addressed nutrition, taking care of one’s temple (body), and then used these lessons to underscore the risks versus benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “Three days later, the church host thanked me, saying many church members decided to receive the vaccine and wanted me back soon to speak again,” he said. Later, he arranged clinics for the people who attended his call through connections in the District of Columbia area, since he could not run these events. Other churches also called him to speak with their members on Zoom calls about how serious COVID-19 is, the importance of taking the vaccine, and to dispel vaccine myths.
To reach even more people, Peters sent text and email blasts to community members on how to protect themselves with mask use and proper sanitation. His pharmacy also sold compounded sanitizer—as permitted by U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations—as well as masks and packages of immune-boosting supplements and nutritional dietary information via text and email.
Acknowledge that you understand your community members’ anxiety and fear are real. Understanding is key to building trust and removing barriers by speaking their “language.”
Since being vaccinated against COVID-19 was not mandatory for employees of the hospital where Peters also works in Baltimore, Maryland, there was less than 50 percent participation hospital wide. Many cafeteria, food service, and security employees were leery of taking it,” Peters said. He spoke with employees and patients about why it’s important to get the vaccine and worked to ease their fears. Posters with familiar faces were also hung up around the hospital to showcase positive testimonies promoting COVID-19 vaccination.
Peters has reached out to many community members to educate and answer questions to calm their fears and anxieties about getting vaccinated. He has informed people from all walks of life, including family, friends, parishioners, students of fraternities and sororities, and hospital staff—always ensuring he tailors his message to the specific audience to encourage vaccine confidence.