Pharmacist Gives Patients the Time They Need to Feel Confident About Vaccination

Pharmacist Tiffany Hatcher prepares vaccines for administration at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the seven months that Tiffany Hatcher, PharmD, has been administering COVID-19 vaccines at the UPMC Mercy Hospital, various congregate living facilities, and other events around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she has fielded all kinds of questions and concerns. No matter what the patient’s reservation, whether it’s grounded in science or based on misinformation campaigns, Hatcher respectfully acknowledges the concern and takes as long as needed to address it.

“Many patients have never had the opportunity to share their concerns,” said Hatcher, who is an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Duquesne University. “They’ve been sitting on these questions and never had the venue or an invitation to ask them.”

Recently, a would-be patient told Hatcher that before she got the vaccine, she needed to see it. She wanted to see the cold storage and be sure that the injection she was about to receive was the actual Moderna vaccine and not just a vial of saline.

Hatcher took the patient to where the vaccines were stored and showed her the Moderna label on the vial before she drew it up into the syringe.

“My approach is, ‘I have nothing to hide. Tell me what you want to know. Tell me what you want to see,’” Hatcher said.

Responding to the patient’s concerns certainly didn’t fit into the workflow that Hatcher had designed to ensure efficient distribution of vaccines that day. But the pharmacist believes this investment of time goes a long way toward instilling vaccine confidence in hesitant patients.

“It’s really easy to just throw in the towel, shut down, and withdraw when you feel like you’re not getting the time that you need, and you feel like you’re just being pushed along too fast,” Hatcher said.

Hatcher listens to patients’ particular concerns and then follows up with the facts. When patients fear the vaccine isn’t safe for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, Hatcher validates that live attenuated vaccines are not recommended for pregnant women but adds that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are not that type of vaccine. To patients who are skeptical of a vaccine that is available for free, Hatcher agrees that it is unusual for the U.S. government to offer medicine for free but adds that free access to the vaccine is an indication of the seriousness of the threat of COVID-19.

In many cases, the extra time to acknowledge and counter patients’ concerns is all it takes to convince them to roll up their sleeves for the vaccine.

Over the time that she has been administering COVID-19 vaccines, Hatcher has quelled patient fears during virtual town halls and in the numerous vaccine events for which she has helped provide workforce. While many facilities in her area received large shipments of vaccines, few had sufficient personnel to administer them. To help staff these events, Hatcher has spent months training student pharmacists to be immunizers and ensuring they had all the right documentation to get started.

Practice Pearl

Give patients the opportunity to voice their concerns, even if they have already consented to receive the vaccine. Take the time needed to acknowledge and address those concerns.

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The pharmacist spearheaded an effort to adapt the American Pharmacists Association’s Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery program to a virtual format. She also set up an online platform through which students could upload their immunizer certificates to be matched with opportunities to staff vaccine clinics.

“We wanted to deploy students into whatever areas needed them most,” she said.

Hatcher encourages all immunizers, students, and pharmacists alike to take a moment to ask patients about their concerns regarding the vaccine. Even patients who have already consented to be vaccinated still might have fears about it. Alleviating those lingering worries could mean these patients go back home and tell family and friends to get the vaccine too.

Above all else, Hatcher said, “They are able to walk out with a sense of peace versus a sense of fear.”