Meet People Where They Are to Improve Vaccine Confidence

Pharmacist Jordan Cooler (center) with student pharmacists at the counseling and psychiatry clinic at the University of South Carolina’s University Health Services.

Jordan Cooler, PharmD, clinical assistant professor at the University of South Carolina (U of SC) College of Pharmacy and psychiatric clinical pharmacist at University Health Services, firmly believes in “meeting people where they are” to build vaccine confidence in community members. Her philosophy extended to participating in a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Juneteenth Freedom Festival in Columbia, South Carolina. The event was spearheaded by U of SC clinical associate professors Julie Ann Justo, PharmD, an infectious diseases clinical pharmacy specialist, and Patricia H. Fabel, PharmD, executive director of the Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center.

The festival brought together vendors, various entertainment performances, and local medical groups. Historically, the annual weekend festival has been a venue for health screenings. This year, the focus was on offering information about COVID-19 and encouraging people, especially the Black and African American community, to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “We set up an area for people who were attending the festival to talk to student pharmacists and pharmacists to ask questions before receiving the vaccine in conjunction with a local mobile vaccine clinic,” said Cooler. “This was a convenient opportunity to provide on-site vaccinations for the first dose and then get them set up for their second dose at the appropriate time.”

Before the event, Cooler participated in local and online media interviews to get the message out that COVID-19 vaccines would be available at the festival. The interviews also helped address concerns, answer questions, and provide a basic overview about the vaccine, how it works, and what people could expect. She encouraged people to talk to pharmacists at the event to help them make informed decisions about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Faculty members met with participating student pharmacists in advance to establish the campaign’s goals, discuss the types of questions they should expect, review some of the myths and misconceptions, and demonstrate communication and motivational interviewing skills. Cooler saw this as a strong real-life opportunity for students to practice and hone their clinical skills. The event was so popular among students that many are now motivated to find other ways to educate and serve their community.

Cooler recognizes that the event was successful because the pharmacists could help people—who had no intention of getting the vaccine— overcome vaccine hesitancy and get vaccinated.

This event was an opportunity for the local community to interface with pharmacists and student pharmacists in a role outside the traditional pharmacy setting. According to Cooler, “It was exciting to help people see that they can talk to their pharmacist about health care issues and concerns other than their prescriptions. Pharmacists can help people understand complicated information about vaccines and reinforce how to access accurate information.”

Learn more about how to leverage Community Outreach Tools and improve vaccine confidence.