You Don’t Need to Be a Vaccinator to Make a Difference

Ajay Sharma, BSPharm, MBA, delivering patient care in Little Acorn Pharmacy in Silver Spring, Maryland.

For Ajay Sharma, BSPharm, MBA, there is a single key to instilling vaccine confidence: “You have to know your patients. You have to know their fears.” If patients are simply names who come to the pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions once a month, Sharma said, you won’t be able to tap into and assuage their deepest concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Cultivating personal relationships with his patients and his colleagues at Little Acorn Pharmacy in Silver Spring, Maryland, has prepared Sharma for this moment. Once COVID-19 vaccines started to become available in his area (although Little Acorn was not yet able to offer the vaccine), patients called Sharma—their trusted neighborhood pharmacist—to ask about it.

The family physician on the block also called the community pharmacist repeatedly to ask when Sharma expected to receive his shipment of the vaccine. The physician’s patients would get the shot only if Sharma were administering it.

“There’re a lot of people who are scared to get the vaccine right now,” Sharma said. Among patients’ top concerns are that the vaccine is too new to trust and the risk that they could have an adverse reaction to it.

Sharma is tireless in addressing every question and concern he hears about the vaccine, even though converting the vaccine-hesitant population won’t bring more customers into his pharmacy since Little Acorn hasn’t yet received its first vaccine shipment. Sharma addresses all concerns with respect and an open mind. He said it’s important to listen and ask questions first before counseling. When patients share their particular concerns, he asks where they read or heard that information.

“When they say they heard it from people they know, I tell them that’s not the best place to get information about the vaccine. Even [network news] sometimes gets it wrong. I point them to the websites of FDA and CDC,” Sharma said.

Sharma openly shares his personal health experience with patients, which bolsters vaccine confidence, he said. Not only did Sharma get the vaccine himself, but he’s had COVID-19, too. He knows firsthand that the risk of getting the virus outweighs any risks involved with the vaccine.

Practice Pearl

People who have doubts about COVID-19 vaccines don’t fit a mold and they don’t all have the same fears. Be tireless in addressing every question and concern.

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“I’m 50 years old and I was in decent shape—and I still got pretty sick. I was in the hospital for five days,” he said. “My patients are older, have diabetes, obesity. They do not want to get this virus.”

Pharmacists should be prepared to hear concerns about the vaccine when they least expect it. People who have doubts about the vaccine, Sharma added, don’t fit a mold. And they don’t all have the same fears. Sharma didn’t expect he’d have to convince his co-worker—another pharmacist—to get vaccinated. But he did.

“He has diabetes, and he didn’t want to get the vaccine. I talked to him about it for a long time, and then he got it. Now, we’re all safer.”

*As of May 2021, Little Acorn Pharmacy now has access to COVID-19 vaccines.