Pharmacist Couple Cultivates Vaccine Confidence From the Pulpit

(Left to Right) Interdisciplinary health care providers Lateef Odeyemi, PharmD; Gustavus Washington, RN; Adrian Washington, APRN-NPC; Anthony Walker, PharmD; Beverly Walker, PharmD; Curtis Sanders, MD; Tonya Sanders, RN; and Kaliyah Sherrod, PharmD, before a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church in Monroe, Louisiana.

After Sunday services at King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church in Monroe, Louisiana, pharmacist couple Beverly and Anthony Walker were inundated with questions from parishioners about the COVID-19 vaccine. Masked and distanced, members of the congregation approached them one by one.

“We got everything from ‘Who can get it?’ and ‘How is it made?’ to ‘Will it get into my cells and change my DNA?’” said Anthony Walker, PharmD, who is an assistant minister at the church.

Walker began to make weekly announcements about COVID-19 and the vaccine from the pulpit and any time there were updates from the FDA or CDC. He also recorded these messages on Facebook Live. However, he and his wife felt they could still do more to address the vaccine concerns of the African American parishioners and community members.

“We wanted to do our part to get as many people in our community vaccinated as possible,” said Beverly Walker, PharmD, “and we just knew that the ones who looked like us needed someone that they could trust, that they felt confident in, so that they could feel ok about getting the vaccine.”

As African American health care providers in the community, professors at University of Louisiana Monroe, and because of their role in the church, the Walkers wanted to step up and be those trusted people. The two pride themselves on being relatable. “We may bring our white coats to the health fairs we organize. But we don’t wear them. We want to show everybody that we are just like them,” Anthony Walker said.

The Walkers decided to host a vaccine Q&A via Zoom. They invited their church members and clergy as well as clergy from other African American churches so that those faith leaders could pass the information to their own congregations. The couple assembled a panel of African American health care professionals, including physicians, nurses, and other pharmacists. The panel opened by presenting basic facts about the COVID-19 vaccines and then gave the floor to the attendees, who had the opportunity to ask all their questions.

“We heard afterwards that most of them were convinced and had decided to get the vaccine,” Mr. Walker said.

The Walkers remember in particular a young woman who works for the church who was certain she would not get the vaccine any time soon, but she attended the Q&A anyway. Like many young people, the woman planned to wait, perhaps indefinitely, to get the vaccine. But after listening to the presentation, she changed her mind. And, as a result, she changed the minds of her family members, too.

Practice Pearl

Come out from behind the counter to build trust with patients. Make yourself available in the community to expand your access to more people.

Learn more

After the Q&A, the Walkers wanted to ensure they maintained the confidence of the people in their community. After all, Anthony Walker said, distrust in health care and in political leadership runs deep among African Americans. “The older people remember the Tuskegee experiment and what happened to us in the past. The younger ones don’t remember Tuskegee, but they don’t trust leaders and politicians, who are the ones telling everyone to get the vaccine,” he said.

To capitalize on the confidence they had built through their Q&A, the Walkers brought back many of the same African American panelists from the Zoom session to vaccinate parishioners at a Sunday clinic after morning services. The event brought in 108 African American community members, who then returned 28 days later for the second dose.

In the end, Beverly Walker said, it was the community’s desire to get back together that gave them the final push to get vaccinated.

“We’re talking about a community of people who are used to being together at family gatherings, funerals. COVID took all of that away,” she said. “Everybody was missing that, and this was an opportunity to get back to life as we once knew it.”

—Sonya Collins
September 2021