Pharmacist Leads Mass Vaccination Clinic at Disneyland

Pharmacist Micah Hata prepares doses of COVID-19 vaccines for administration to patients in Ocean County, California.

As soon as the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in California, Micah Hata, PharmD, called Orange County public health authorities and asked what he could do to help. The associate professor of pharmacy practice and administration at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, and community pharmacy residency program director for first-year postgraduate pharmacists at Ralph’s Pharmacy said, “To get back to normal, or anywhere close to it, we need to vaccinate as many people as possible, as fast as possible, and for that, we need manpower.”

Hata imagined he’d be asked to show up at a COVID-19 vaccine event with a group of eager student pharmacists. Yet he was asked to do a whole lot more. On January 13, Orange County would host its first mass vaccination event at a community point of dispensing (also called a “super POD”) in the parking lot at Disneyland. The county’s health care agency needed someone on site to oversee the entire operation, which commenced by providing vaccinations at a rate of 2,000 to 3,000 per day and peaked at as many as 6,000 vaccinations per day.

Hata rose to the occasion. He helped design and implement the vaccine administration workflow, which included receiving and overseeing the vaccine inventory as well as monitoring the temperature of vials and developing protocols for vaccine dose documentation. To limit waste, he helped maintain a standby list of patients in the event doses were left over at the end of the day. Hata also trained and scheduled health care volunteers, student pharmacists, and staff to provide vaccines at the county’s first super POD.

Eventually, Hata helped launch two additional super PODS and trained the personnel who facilitated COVID-19 vaccination events at those sites.

“One of the most rewarding parts of this work was just seeing how motivated people were to get the vaccine,” Hata said. “When we first started, there were two-hour waits to get in, but for the most part, people were in a good mood and excited to get the vaccine.”

In contrast, back at Ralph’s Pharmacy, patients weren’t always so enthusiastic. Among the many who were eager to get the new vaccine, there were others who held off vaccination for a variety of reasons.

Some people were unsure whether the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process was thorough. Others voiced concerns raised by anti-vaccination messages they read on social media. Patients with pre-existing health conditions worried that the vaccine wouldn’t be safe for them. Some feared unknown side effects.

“Motivational interviewing is key when patients express hesitancy,” Hata said. Pharmacists cannot simply launch into generic counseling about the vaccine when they encounter patients with reservations. He suggests saying, “Tell me a bit more about your concerns. I’m hearing what your concerns are. Can I share some information with you about the vaccine compared with what you’ve heard?”

Practice Pearl

Motivational interviewing is key when patients express hesitancy. Ask patients to tell you about their concerns and make sure they know you’ve heard and understood them.

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It’s crucial, Hata emphasized, to make sure patients know they have been heard. “You have to meet them where they are and make sure they know that you understand their concerns.”

Hata expressed that when counseling regular patients of the pharmacy, it is not imperative to get hesitant people vaccinated during a first encounter. Instead, lay the groundwork for an ongoing conversation. He said, “Be a resource for them. You can say, ‘Think about this and let me know if you have questions,’ and ‘Would you mind if I asked you about this the next time you come in to see if your thoughts about it have changed?’”

Tools to Answer Common Questions about COVID-19 vaccines, Know the Vaccine Development and Approval Process, and free continuing education for pharmacists on Motivational Interviewing to Address Vaccine Confidence are available by clicking the hyperlinks.