Mirroring Your Community Enhances Trust and Influence

Amina Abubakar (right) counsels a patient prior to administering a COVID-19 vaccine at Rx Clinic Pharmacy in Charlotte, North Carolina.

When RxClinic Pharmacy in Charlotte, North Carolina, received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, staff called patients to schedule their appointments. Patients of the pharmacy represent a cross-section of the city’s diverse population and include Hispanic and Asian immigrants, Burmese refugees, people living with HIV, and folks of various socioeconomic and religious backgrounds.

But in phone calls with patients, while many were excited about the vaccine, pharmacy staff got pushback from others. “‘I’m not ready for this. They pushed this through too soon. The government shouldn’t tell me what to put in my body.’ That’s what we were hearing from people,” said Amina Abubakar, PharmD, owner of RxClinic.

A targeted approach to individual concerns

Abubakar and her team knew they needed a targeted approach tailored to the individual concerns of each group that was pushing back against the vaccine. Fortunately, a customized approach was no problem for the pharmacy because, Abubakar said, “Our pharmacy staff mirrors the local community.”

A Vietnamese-speaking pharmacist at RxClinic created an informational video for the Vietnamese community. Spanish-speaking staff did the same while Arabic-speaking staff presented information about the vaccine during community prayer services. They posted the videos on the pharmacy’s social media channels and shared them with other groups that might be relevant to speakers of these languages, such as the Vietnamese Association of Charlotte.

The effort has drawn in not only existing patients who saw the videos in their language but people from all over Charlotte who come from those backgrounds.

Getting to the bottom of hesitancy

A couple of RxClinic Pharmacies are located inside health care facilities. Abubakar was dismayed when staff at those facilities showed resistance to the vaccine, too. Among administrators, CNAs, medical assistants, and other health workers at various knowledge, training, and responsibility levels, many expressed reluctance to roll up their sleeves and get the vaccine.

“We needed to focus on these frontline workers to see where their hesitancy was coming from,” Abubakar said.

Her pharmacy staff partnered with clinicians at these health care facilities to produce an educational video that addressed the specific concerns of the health workers, which included how the vaccines work and how they were approved so quickly.

To the latter concern, Abubakar explained that the sheer number of COVID-19 cases helped accelerate the process. Almost immediately, there were hundreds of thousands of cases to help researchers study and understand the virus. A vaccine would have taken much longer if fewer people were infected.

After the pharmacy presented the frontline workers with an educational video, Abubakar said, “The vaccination rate started going up. People would come to us and say, ‘Thank you. It finally makes sense.’”

Cultivating vaccine ambassadors

It wasn’t only pharmacists and other clinicians who helped disseminate information and dispel myths about the COVID-19 vaccine. Abubakar advises all pharmacists to leverage the additional reach of their pharmacy technicians. RxClinic’s technicians shared vaccine information on Facebook Live with their personal networks. One video led to an invitation from the technician’s church to address the congregation about COVID-19 vaccines.

“We converted our technicians into vaccine ambassadors, and that gives us a wider reach.”

The power of personal outreach

Abubakar hasn’t relied only on videos to help spread the message about immunizations. She personally searches out remaining pockets of vaccine hesitancy in the community. For example, she or members of her pharmacy staff stop in at international grocery stores, such as Hispanic and Halal supermarkets, to promote the vaccine.

Recently, Abubakar visited a Hispanic grocery to let the owner know that vaccines are available at her pharmacy. The conversation led to persuading an employee, who had been on the fence, to get vaccinated.

In routine Zoom meetings with the local COVID-19 Task Force, whose health care committee she chairs, Abubakar helps others spread the word about the importance of vaccination to their networks and communities as well. The task force includes medical, business, religious, and community leaders who share challenges they face—such as resistance to masks, social distancing, and vaccines—and then brainstorm ways to overcome them.

“Ministers, for example, talk about working this information into their Sunday messaging,” she said.

Abubakar is hopeful that the ongoing information and counseling that comes of her staff’s videos, her in-person outreach, and the task force’s efforts will continue to chip away at any remaining vaccine hesitancy in her community.