Community Pharmacist Builds Vaccine Confidence in His Local Community and Citywide

Pharmacist Roger Paganelli (3rd from left) and colleagues during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic set up at a school in Westchester County, New York.

Pharmacist Roger Paganelli (3rd from left) and colleagues during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic set up at a school in Westchester County, New York.

In the Bronx, New York, where Roger Paganelli, BSPharm, owns and operates Mt. Carmel Pharmacy, vaccine hesitancy comes in many forms.

“There were so many different stories—distrust of the government, distrust of the drug companies, fear of the unknown, skepticism about how fast the vaccine was developed,” Paganelli said.

The community pharmacist took multiple approaches to addressing the various barriers to vaccination that he encountered.

In the vaccine clinic that Mt. Carmel Pharmacy set up in a trailer outside the store, Paganelli takes an individualized approach with people who are skeptical of vaccines, and he hopes it will have far-reaching effects. He recalls a middle-aged woman who was the caregiver for an older woman. The caregiver brought the older woman in for a COVID-19 vaccine but made clear that she had no intention of getting the vaccine herself. However, after the pharmacist spent some time explaining that the vaccine would not only protect her but also provide further protection to the older woman in her care, the caregiver changed her mind.

“What’s most meaningful about this is that when [this vaccinated patient] goes home, she may share this experience with someone else, and if she convinces just one person to get vaccinated, then we have both done our job,” Paganelli said.

Paganelli put special effort into building vaccine confidence among people living with diabetes. In the State of New York, diabetes is the second most common underlying condition of people who die of COVID-19.

“People with diabetes were among the hardest hit in the pandemic,” Paganelli said. “So, a pharmacist who is educating on diabetes self-care and management has to include the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Paganelli did his part to educate people with diabetes on COVID-19 vaccines by collaborating on an educational video with colleagues in the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network (CPESN). Paganelli runs the New York City chapter as a volunteer. Through a grant from CDC and the New York State Department of Health, Paganelli and colleagues in New York’s CPESN had an educational video made about the role of the COVID-19 vaccine in diabetes self-management and care.

“It was meant to build confidence in the vaccine among people who might not have been comfortable with it already,” Paganelli said.

Practice Pearl

Start by taking the time to find out what the patient’s biggest fear is about vaccination. Try to alleviate that fear with your knowledge and experience as an immunizer.

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The video, which was recorded in both English and Spanish, was distributed to the 260 CPESN member pharmacies in the State of New York, which in turn ran the video on their websites and in their pharmacies.

Paganelli and the team at Mt. Carmel Pharmacy also ensured convenience was not a barrier to vaccination for thousands of New Yorkers. Through partnerships with business leaders around Greater New York, the pharmacy offered workplace-based vaccination clinics at organizations that ranged from small community businesses with a couple dozen employees to global investment banks that employ thousands of people.

“We have been at the bank’s headquarters each and every day, and they are still coming to get vaccinated,” said Paganelli.

The pharmacy team has run clinics on sets at television stations, in fashion designers’ studios, and at various restaurants. They also have conducted numerous COVID-19 vaccine clinics at private schools and colleges in and around the city. At a Westchester County school, Paganelli and colleagues vaccinated 400 people on a single Saturday.

Community Outreach Tools and resources to Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.