Health-System Pharmacist Gives Her Days Off to Vaccine Effort

Pharmacist Jessica Marx administers her first COVID-19 vaccine to a health care worker at the Genesis Colonial Hill Center in Rochester, New Hampshire.

Early in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Jessica Marx, PharmD, never took a day off. She worked full-time at Portsmouth Regional Hospital in New Hampshire. Then, during all her off-days, she took shifts at CVS. She spent most of those shifts traveling sometimes hours from her home to vaccinate older adults at long-term care facilities.

“My grandmother lives in a facility like that, so I wanted to make sure that everyone’s grandma and grandpa got vaccinated,” Marx said. “Somebody’s got to do it.”

Over the course of a few months, Marx administered close to a thousand doses of the vaccine. One older Korean couple in particular stands out to her. Marx is half-Korean herself, and the couple took a liking to the pharmacist presumably due to their shared heritage. Although Marx speaks little Korean and the couple knows only a little English, they shared a special connection.

“They were just very interested in me and so happy that I was giving them the vaccine,” Marx recalled. “They couldn’t stop expressing how grateful they were for me to come and vaccinate them.”

When Marx returned to the facility to administer second doses about a month later, the couple presented her with a thank-you card. “These were long days, and I was spending my days off doing this,” she said. “That little gesture definitely made it worth my while. It was so nice to be appreciated.”

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Use “If I were you” and “If I were in your shoes” statements to make a personal connection with patients.

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Marx doesn’t believe that putting needles in arms is the only way to be useful or make a difference. Before one of her state’s first COVID-19 mass vaccination events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, she answered a call for volunteers. Marx made the hour-plus drive to the venue, where she spent half a day in a room with about 30 other pharmacists and technicians drawing up vaccine doses.

The health professionals sat at workstations, where they drew up doses of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine, capped the needle, put a few dozen syringes into a baggy, and then marked it with the date and time. Participating in the assembly-line style task meant a lot to Marx.

“It was all hands on deck and really powerful to be a part of the effort. I know how important this mass vaccination event was to the community, the state, and really the world,” Marx said. “Though we weren’t sticking needles in arms, we played a huge part in ensuring that the vaccination efforts were as effective as possible and that we vaccinated as many people as possible.”

Most of Marx’s vaccine efforts have been focused on people who have been eager to get vaccinated, however she has clear advice on how to connect with those who aren’t so eager. The first step, she says, is to hear them out. Find out exactly what’s holding them back, and then provide them with the best information to allay their particular concern.

Marx also calls attention to the importance of making a more personal connection. She said, “It’s especially powerful to make statements like, ‘If I were in your shoes, here’s what I’d do’ or if the person is worried about their mother, for example, ‘If it were my mother, here’s what I’d do.’ That way, you’re speaking from a personal place versus making a professional recommendation that you’ve read out of a textbook.”

Learn more about How to Talk to People About COVID-19 Vaccines to improve vaccine confidence.