Community Pharmacist Committed to Vaccine Confidence in Black and Brown Communities
Loza Theodros, PharmD, (seated second from left) with colleagues from Walgreens aboard the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mobile clinic to make vaccination available in underserved communities.
Loza Theodros, PharmD, administered numerous doses of COVID-19 vaccines during the vaccine rollout, while in practice at a Walgreens in Los Angeles, California. But volume was not her main pursuit.
“A big part of what I wanted to do was leverage who I am, a Black female pharmacist, in order to connect and protect people through the vaccine,” Theodros said.
“Vaccine hesitancy has always been a big concern in Black and Brown communities,” Theodros explained. “So, during the pandemic, a time when the only way to [improve the situation to a noticeable degree] was with a vaccine, it was more important than ever that we try to regain that trust that had been lost amongst these communities.”
To that end, Theodros spent some of the vaccine rollout riding a charter bus, which was outfitted to serve as Walgreens’ mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic, into some of the most underserved and under-resourced areas in Los Angeles. She visited predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, African American neighborhoods, and areas with a high concentration of unhoused people living in shelters and on the streets.
Theodros didn’t wait on the bus for patients to appear. Instead, she spent most of her time walking up and down the streets of those areas, spreading the word about the clinic and COVID-19 vaccine, starting conversations, and answering questions.
“By having conversations and hearing people’s thoughts, I was able to walk back to the bus with a handful of people every time and get them vaccinated that same day,” Theodros said.
Theodros approached community members with her wholehearted understanding of their distrust of health care providers and the health care system. Throughout history, Black and Brown communities had been subjected to numerous medical abuses. Daily, she fielded questions such as, “How do I know you’re giving me what you say you’re giving me?” or “How do I know this isn’t something being tested on me?”
Build vaccine confidence through trustworthy communication with patients about COVID-19 vaccines.
A vital component to gaining trust was the shared experience of being a person of a racial minority. Theodros said, “Just seeing a face that looked like theirs peeled one layer of hesitancy away.” She added, “Then, having the knowledge as to how the vaccine works and being able to communicate effectively further increased vaccine confidence.”
Theodros recalls one woman who was on the fence about the COVID-19 vaccine. The woman wanted the vaccine but was also afraid about the possible side effects as well as unknown side effects that might arise in the future.
To allay the patient’s fears, Theodros explained how the vaccine works. Then, she pointed out that data on most vaccinations with long-term side effects arise within the first 3 weeks. Given the number of people who had already been through clinical trials, she said, it was unlikely that there were as-yet-unknown side effects of COVID-19 vaccines. Finally, Theodros assured the patient that she would take personal responsibility for her. If the patient had any bothersome side effects, she could go to the pharmacy to see Theodros, who would do whatever she could to help.
The patient got vaccinated that same day and did not return to the pharmacy with any bothersome side effects.
Resources to help Reach Diverse Communities and Know What Drives Vaccine Confidence are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.