Pharmacists and Technicians Win Over Patients Stuck “in the Middle” on Vaccines

Pharmacist Jayme Garcia supervises a pharmacy technician administering a COVID-19 vaccine in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Every patient interaction, even those that aren’t about the COVID-19 vaccine, is an opportunity to build vaccine confidence. That’s how Jayme Garcia, PharmD, approaches her patients at a large supermarket pharmacy chain in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Recently, Garcia counseled a patient who came in to pick up his bupropion prescription. The man said he wasn’t accustomed to taking medication for any reason but that he had made the decision to quit smoking. Garcia explained how the medication worked and how to take it, and then she congratulated him on his decision. Wrapping up the conversation, she said, “If you have any questions at all, my name’s Jayme, and I’m happy to answer them for you.”

The patient left the pharmacy counter and went on with his grocery shopping. About a half hour later, he returned and asked for the pharmacist by name.

“He said, ‘You said I could ask you anything. Tell me about the COVID-19 vaccine,’” Garcia recalled. The man wasn’t sure about getting the vaccine, but he didn’t want to be part of the problem by refusing it. At the same time, he worried that the possible long-term side effects had yet to be seen.

“This shows the importance of building relationships with patients,” Garcia said. “I loved that he sought me out to ask those questions.”

Garcia explained to the patient that the vaccine is safe and effective, what is known about side effects, and how vaccine side effects compare with those of severe COVID-19.

“You have to acknowledge the questions and the fears because there’s so many people ‘in the middle’ on vaccines, who just need validation of their concerns and some clear answers to their questions,” Garcia said. “No matter how silly a question may sound,” she adds, “it’s very serious to them.”

Finally, the patient asked Garcia to share her own experience with the vaccine. Garcia was upfront about the mild side effects she experienced over the first 24 hours, but she assured him that the strongest thing she felt after the vaccine was relief. In the end, the patient decided to get vaccinated.

Most people coming into the pharmacy for vaccines these days are in the middle, Garcia says, between those who were eager to be vaccinated early on and those who do not want the vaccine.

Early during the rollout, Garcia participated in large clinics where most people were committed to getting vaccinated. For those who might have had reservations, the events were tailored to specific communities, which helped build trust. For example, Garcia administered vaccines at an LDS Church, whose primary membership is Pacific Islanders, through an initiative cosponsored by the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition. “Working with their coalition and bringing the vaccines to their church really helped build trust,” she said.

At the pharmacy where Garcia works, technicians are a crucial part of the immunization team and key in winning over many patients who are ambivalent about getting vaccinated.

Utah’s Pharmacy Practice Act allows pharmacy technicians to administer vaccines under the direct supervision of a delegating pharmacist. Garcia has been a champion for technicians in the pharmacy where she works and the vast majority have chosen to become immunizers.

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“[Pharmacy technicians] are building such great relationships with patients,” Garcia said. “They are particularly able to connect with younger patients. They have given us the ability to expand our vaccine effort and take walk-ins. They have been such a bright light for us.”

As a team, Garcia, her pharmacist colleagues, and the technicians set an example for hesitant patients who come through the pharmacy. “‘All of us back here have chosen to get the vaccine,” we can tell patients, ‘and these are our reasons why.’”