Research Prepares Pharmacist to Address Patient Vaccine Concerns

Jessica Silva, PharmD, prepares a vaccine dose at Walgreens in Fall River, Massachusetts, where she is pharmacy manager.

At Walgreens in Fall River, Massachusetts, where Jessica Silva, PharmD, is a pharmacy manager, a patient approached the counter with a few questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. The patient was on the fence about the vaccine, perhaps leaning a little more toward not getting it; her questions centered on side effects and risks.

“I always normalize the potential side effects as much as possible,” Silva said. “I make sure patients know that many of these are the same side effects that come with every vaccine. Many are not unique to the COVID-19 vaccine, and I don’t think people realize that.”

Silva sat with the patient and gave her all the time she needed. The pharmacist explained what is known about COVID-19 and the vaccine. She told the patient that the possible side effects of the vaccine are far less significant than the risks associated with the COVID-19 virus. She also shared with the patient the side effects that she had personally experienced after receiving the vaccine. Eventually, to Silva’s surprise, the patient decided to get the vaccine right then.

“People just want to be heard and want you to spend a little time with them,” Silva said.

Concerns about risks and side effects, not misinformation, are the top reasons why some people may hold off getting the vaccine, according to research that Silva completed as a community pharmacy resident at Walgreens last year. In two separate studies that captured both the 40- to 60-year-old demographic and college students, concerns about safety and side effects were the reasons patients cited most for why they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine when it became available.

“This is where pharmacists can make the greatest impact—providing education on the safety of the vaccine and putting the side effects in context,” Silva said. “We may be able to get patients who are teetering on the fence and push them over to the ‘yes’ side.”

Silva has been vaccinating members of her community since January 2021. At first, she saw the influx of all those who were eager to get the vaccine and then she saw the numbers taper off. Today, she says, many of the people who have not yet gotten the vaccine are unsure whether they will.

Based on these experiences and her research, Silva says those holdouts will need to be won over one at a time. She has some advice for pharmacists on how to do it. First, she says, don’t dismiss their concerns. Although pharmacists are confident that the vaccine is safe, patients’ questions about safety are valid.

Practice Pearl

Be patient and focus on addressing patient concerns. It may take several conversations for a patient to agree to get vaccinated.

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“This is new for all of us. None of us has been through anything like this before,” Silva said. “We’re all in it together.” Next, she says, be patient. “You can’t get angry with anyone. That’s not going to solve anything.”

Finally, she says, don’t expect to change a person’s mind in a single encounter. Keep communicating with them and reconnecting with them at every opportunity.

While it may seem like a slow process to win patients over one at a time, Silva notes that the impact could be much greater than that individual person. Silva’s patient had other unvaccinated people in her household. Silva suspects they may decide to get vaccinated now, too.

What’s more, Silva says, “Another protected person may protect ten or more additional people because of how fast the virus spreads.”

Learn more on Addressing Concerns About COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects and improve vaccine confidence.