Pharmacist Plants a Seed With Personalized Community Outreach

Pharmacist Ghaidaa Najjar vaccinates a vaccine hesitant 16-year-old patient against COVID-19 at Michigan Islamic Academy in Ann Arbor.

As soon as community pharmacist Ghaidaa Najjar, PharmD, PhD, was asked by her employer—Rite Aid—to join the COVID-19 vaccination task force, without hesitation she said, “Yes.” Since the beginning of vaccine availability, she has been dedicated to running COVID-19 vaccination clinics, despite some clinic sites being a 5-hour drive round trip for a 10-hour shift providing vaccines. Why? She wants to help bring society back to normalcy. Najjar is a strong advocate for proactively approaching people to convince them to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Many times, people walk in [the pharmacy] for information and don’t want to be vaccinated. But they end up being vaccinated after I talk to them,” said Najjar. “People don’t believe in it because they’re either ‘healthy,’ not comfortable [with needles], or have heard [misinformation about the vaccines]. I am able to speak their language and involve community members to reassure them.”

Involving the community encourages collaboration between health care professionals and trusted organizations such as local churches. Although older adults were eligible for the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations, “We had people who had difficulty navigating scheduling systems, barely able to walk, and didn’t have smartphones to make appointments and look up information,” said Najjar. She learned that when churches assist community members in registering for the vaccine, the process for getting vaccinated was more straightforward for patients.

“You have to plant the right seeds strategically and deliberately from the beginning,” said Najjar. Prior to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, she reached out to multiple community centers to obtain their approval to hold COVID-19 vaccination clinics at their sites once the vaccines were available to the public. Before she runs a clinic, Najjar makes a point to educate and answer people’s questions, which often results in more people being vaccinated. She also advises patients to go to any clinic or pharmacy that is most convenient for them, because “anybody could be walking in and thinking about getting the vaccine, and we don’t want to lose them,” she said.

Najjar does her best to put patients first. She fully embraces her role to stop the spread of COVID-19 and makes it her mission to step out of her own “pharmacy bubble.”

“A lady contacted me about vaccinating her two sons who are 14 and 15 years old,” Najjar said. “She apologized and said her sons were not able to make it to the community event for their scheduled appointments with me because their car broke down, but they still wanted to come and do it.” This family did not speak English, and Najjar knew that she had to help.

“I had to find out where they could get the [COVID-19] vaccine within a 1-mile walking distance or by finding someone who could give them a ride,” Najjar said. “So, I made the appointment for them with a different company at a more convenient location and called the mom to let her know.” Najjar plans to give them their second dose the next time she runs a vaccine clinic in their area.

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“You also need to try to understand the different cultures that the American fabric has, and you have to cater to all of them,” said Najjar. “Similar cultural backgrounds help people trust others who speak the same language, through the perception of similar faith, culture, and life story.”

Najjar created a WhatsApp group to help translate and provide culturally relevant examples to refugees. In the group, she created a scenario in Arabic to increase understanding of the pandemic and the COVID-19 vaccine. Using their shared language, she advises people who are culturally similar to her, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, by encouraging them to get vaccinated. “They are fearful and sometimes just need a push in the right direction to get the vaccine,” explained Najjar.