Protecting Our Armed Forces

Pharmacist Nick Patterson (left) with physician assistants Paul Strohl (middle) and Nicholas Basham (right) during a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Nick Patterson, PharmD, a clinical pharmacist at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, faced a unique dilemma; the biggest barrier to getting his community vaccinated against COVID-19 was their freedom of choice. Since the COVID-19 vaccines had not yet received full approval by the Food and Drug Administration, and were initially rolled out under emergency use authorization, “many people were hesitant because, for the first time in their Army careers, they had the ability to say no,” he said, referring to the usual mandates to get immunized against numerous vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Our main focus was to vaccinate active-duty members. We had no trouble bringing in our beneficiaries and retirees; they were running to the door. But our active-duty members were the ones that had the greatest concerns,” said Patterson of the mostly white, middle-income population that typically live in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and Clarksville, Tennessee. “We started by educating our ‘whiskeys,’ or medics, to talk about getting the COVID-19 vaccine and address any issues to make them feel more confident about getting it every time they came in for appointments.”

Patterson believes spreading the word through education is essential, “because if you don’t start with the facts and statistics by educating people, then everyone’s coming in with different expectations and knowledge base and are not sure what to do,” he said.

Diverse departments were involved in the process of sharing information about the vaccine. “We had people go into brigades to talk to soldiers about it. We educated our administrative officers about what they needed to do to inform the patients,” said Patterson. They also utilized Army Public Affairs. “We uploaded video interviews on Facebook to answer as many questions as we could to convince people to get vaccinated. Even national news stations did a few interviews and walkabouts to feature us,” he said.

Practice Pearl

Involve everyone in the process of making the community comfortable to get vaccinated. Bring people to the same level of expectation by educating them with the facts and statistics before you offer the vaccine.

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Because the U.S. Armed Forces have a fundamental loyalty to community, they did not allow their freedom of choice to overwhelm their regard for higher-ranking captains and commanders as respectable examples of why they should get vaccinated; it was a cascading effect of social proof of trust in the vaccine.

Interdisciplinary health care professionals took on various designated roles and collaboratively helped in the vaccination efforts. “It’s been the most amazing thing in the world seeing so much involvement!” said Patterson. Clinical and staff pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, nurses, dentists, case managers, students, and medics have helped.

With so many different health care professionals involved, there needed to be a system in place to keep vaccination efforts running efficiently. “At five o’clock every day, we pulled vaccines out of the ultra-low temperature freezer because we only do [COVID-19 vaccinations] on post,” said Patterson. “A nurse and I made sure they had all the supplies needed, and vaccines were transported over to our vaccine clinic.” Then pharmacists were responsible for preparing vaccines for administration and answering any questions. Additionally, only authorized individuals have key access to freezers, allowing accurate accounting of vaccines. “We pulled out vials when we absolutely needed them,” said Patterson of the system, which is monitored at all times by an external computer system. The focus was on making sure every single dose of vaccine was delivered to patients.

As people became more educated about COVID-19 and the vaccine, observed their peers and officials getting the vaccine, and saw people around them getting sick from COVID-19, it was no longer as political of a topic. “People said, ‘I’m ready to get it’ and they just came in and got it done,” said Patterson. “They limited troop movements for leave based on CDC recommendations, which also convinced people to come get it as well.”