Pharmacist Deconstructs Vaccine Misinformation With Culture-Centered Approach

Pharmacist Chaz Barit prepares for a COVID-19 vaccination event at the veterans hall, Ke’ehi Lagoon Memorial, on the island of Oahu.

In Hawaii, family is everything. For some people, family members may be the single greatest factor that figures into making any decision. This is especially true in Laie, a small town on the island of Oahu. Consequently, when Chaz Barit, PharmD, approached the wife of a patient about scheduling her husband to get a COVID-19 vaccine, he wasn’t surprised when she declined.

“She told me that her family had told her not to get it,” said Barit, who is a clinical pharmacist at the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System in Honolulu. As her husband’s caregiver, the woman had decided that he wouldn’t be getting the vaccine.

Barit approached her with the patience and the respect that he believes are most effective in winning over individuals with vaccine concerns.

“You have to listen to them and validate their concerns,” Barit said. “Because when it comes to family, in Hawaii, people say, ‘That’s what my family is doing. That’s what I’m going to do, regardless of what anyone else tells me.’”

Rather than accepting the woman’s answer and moving on to the next patient, Barit asked her if she would be open to sharing her concerns about the vaccine. Her fears ran the gamut from government tracking devices to unknown future side effects and the speed with which the vaccine was developed.

Distrust of the government, Barit noted, is a common stance among Hawaiian natives that may date back to the U.S. overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. He said, “They’d rather hear health recommendations from anyone else but the government.”

Barit debunked the myths his patient’s wife had heard, walked her through the FDA approval process, and explained vaccine safety monitoring. By taking this time to acknowledge and answer each of her questions, Barit made the woman more comfortable with the idea of getting both her husband and herself vaccinated.

Her attitude was ‘absolutely no vaccine’ from the get-go, and by the end of the call, she told me to schedule her husband and asked if she could get scheduled, too,” Barit said. “And she was happy and grateful.”

The next week, when Barit and his team brought the vaccines to Laie, they stayed late to allow the woman to finish work, pick up her husband, and make it to the site to get vaccinated.

Throughout the vaccine rollout, Barit has gone to great lengths to get vaccines to veterans and their families across the Hawaiian Islands. Before the state received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, he made sure the VA could secure the coolers it needed to transport mRNA vaccines by plane to the most remote islands.

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“Within the first week, we were on the island of Kauai vaccinating veterans and staff,” Barit said.

Barit has also committed a great deal of time convincing people in “the hesitant middle” to become accepting of vaccination. The son of a well-respected family from the rural town of Waialua on the North Shore of Oahu, Barit knew he had influence in the community. Accordingly, he called the Hawaiian Civic Club in the area to ask how he could support their efforts to get local residents vaccinated. They asked him to host a Q&A.

Along with a local physician and a school nurse, Barit answered a variety of general questions about vaccines as well as COVID-19 safety in particular.

“People have questions and want to feel heard,” Barit said. “They want answers from someone they can trust. What better profession to hear it from than pharmacy?”