People Need Individual Vaccination Concerns Acknowledged

Pharmacist Olivia Strain with her multigenerational family encouraging others to protect their loved ones from COVID-19.

As a clinical services pharmacist and the director of the Community Pharmacy Residency Program for first-year postgraduate pharmacists at Walgreens in Jackson, Mississippi, Olivia L. Strain, PharmD, is perceptive about what it takes to help patients understand the need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. “Mostly they just want someone to listen to their concerns, and once I provide them with information related to their specific concerns, then they are more willing to take the shot,” she said.

COVID-19 vaccines started rolling out to long-term care facilities (LTCFs) in December, and the Walgreens store where Strain works had vaccines available in March. “Since LTCF residents are at higher risk of developing complications needing hospitalization if infected with COVID-19, our focus was on setting up vaccine clinics for the vulnerable population at LTCFs,” she said.

A specific team focused entirely on LTCFs and COVID-19 vaccination clinics coordinated statewide to set up clinics in the database, obtain insurance, and register vaccine recipients in advance. Strain also leveraged relationships with her business contacts who provide annual influenza clinics to coordinate numerous off-site clinics in urban and socioeconomically disadvantaged parts of Mississippi.

In one LTCF, residents were excited to get vaccinated because, if everyone got vaccinated, they could have visitors again after no outside contact for most of the year. Since Strain had just finished vaccinating more than 100 people at the LTCF, she was surprised that a couple residents were opposed to getting the first dose of the vaccine. “One patient was adamant about not getting the shot. I talked to him about why he should get the vaccine and tried to understand what his hesitation was,” said Strain. The patient had dementia and was becoming physically resistive to care. “So, I calmly knelt down in front of him at eye level, stopped talking, and focused on listening to his concerns.”

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As this patient became more comfortable in Strain’s presence, she learned that what he wanted most was to see his wife, who he hadn’t seen in over nine months. Hearing him out helped Strain put him at ease and let him know that getting this vaccine would allow him to finally see his wife. Having calmed down, he decided to be vaccinated.

“When I went back several weeks later to give the residents their second doses, instead of being my last patient to get the vaccine, he was sitting out in the common area waiting for me without hesitation,” Strain said. “He wanted to be one of the first ones, because he was so excited that he would be able to see his wife in a few weeks.” Two weeks after the second doses were given, the facility allowed residents to see their family members and friends in person (as long as they were also vaccinated) instead of through a window as they had for so many months.

Some of the LTCF staff had concerns about getting vaccinated for COVID-19 and wanted to sit back and wait to see how others responded to the vaccine. “When I went back to give the second vaccine dose, more staff wanted to get their first dose because they had seen that people had responded well, nobody was super sick, and did not report any serious side effects,” said Strain. After seeing it for themselves, the staff members were more willing to be vaccinated. “We tried to do it early enough that we could catch them either before they left or right after they got to work,” said Strain.

To date, about 2,000 COVID-19 doses have been given as a result of efforts by Strain and her team.