Knowledge Increases Vaccine Confidence, Pharmacist’s Research Shows

Liz Carmosino, PharmD, vaccinates a patient at Balls Foods Hen House Market Pharmacy in Kansas City, Kansas.

In summer 2020, when COVID-19 vaccine candidates were still in clinical trials and did not yet have emergency use authorization (EUA), Liz Carmosino, PharmD, was a community-based pharmacy resident at Balls Foods Hen House Market Pharmacy in Kansas City, Kansas. Back then, the pharmacy’s patients asked her a lot of questions about the forthcoming vaccines.

“They asked me things like, ‘What are your thoughts on this vaccine they’re developing? Do you think they’re pushing it through too fast?’ and so on,” Carmosino said. Considering these questions, she wondered how much uncertainty she’d face once the vaccine was available and whether there was a way to predict which patients would be most cautious.

Carmosino designed a survey to test patient knowledge about vaccines, clinical trial design, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. What she found was the more people knew about clinical trials and measures that the FDA already had in place to make sure that vaccines are safe, the more likely they were to get the vaccine. People who reported that they did not intend to get the vaccine when it became available were less knowledgeable about the FDA’s processes or had misconceptions about the vaccine or the approval process. “This is a great opportunity for pharmacists to pinpoint knowledge gaps and talk to their patients about them,” Carmosino said.

Many patients who participated in the survey believed the vaccine clinical trials skipped key steps related to safety. Once the vaccine became available, Carmosino was ready to address this concern with real-life patients in the pharmacy. She shared with patients a timeline of each of the steps in the process on the path to EUA for the vaccines.

“I showed the EUA approval process and the traditional process side by side so they could see that it didn’t cut any corners; it was just a different process, and that was helpful for people,” Carmosino said.

Education is just one part of reducing concerns about vaccines, Carmosino says, but it isn’t everything. “You have to build a trusting relationship with your patients and then add in that education component.”

Carmosino got to put that formula—trusting relationship plus education—to the test with the patients she cares about the most: her parents. Like so many of her patients in the pharmacy, Carmosino’s parents were not eager to get the vaccine because it was developed and approved so quickly. “None of the other vaccines they’d ever gotten had been developed so quickly,” she said.

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The best ways to address vaccine concerns are by providing education and establishing trusting relationships.

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Just as she did with patients in the pharmacy, Carmosino walked her parents through the process that had led to such speedy approval of the vaccines, which helped put their minds at ease. But there was still another hurdle to cross.

In the beginning of the vaccine rollout, when Carmosino’s parents became eligible, it was still fairly difficult to get an appointment. Navigating the appointment-making process was a barrier for many older adults once they became eligible for the vaccine. Carmosino scheduled appointments at the pharmacy for her parents to get the vaccine—and when they came in, she was the one to administer it.

“I would say that vaccinating my own parents was my biggest win,” said Carmosino.

Learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines are developed and approved here.