Community Pharmacist Connects With Hard-to-Reach Population

Tyler Higgins, PharmD, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at Medical Clinic Pharmacy in Caldwell, Idaho..

Tyler Higgins, PharmD, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at Medical Clinic Pharmacy in Caldwell, Idaho.

According to the Idaho Division of Public Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Data Dashboard, only a little over half of the state’s population completed the primary series against COVID-19, and one distinct segment of the population can be particularly difficult to reach: migrant farm workers. They may not have access to thorough information about vaccines because of language barriers or low health literacy, and some may fear interacting with the health care system owing to their legal status.

Totaling some 50,000 individuals in Idaho during the peak of the harvest season in October, migrant farm workers, by virtue of their lifestyle, were at particular risk of contracting and transmitting the COVID-19 virus. They live in close quarters during their temporary agricultural employment in the United States, and they travel back and forth across foreign borders.

Tyler Higgins, PharmD, knew that as the owner of Medical Clinic Pharmacy in Caldwell, Idaho, he was in a good position to help mitigate those risks.

“The great thing about community pharmacies is that we’re in the community,” Higgins said. “People know us and trust us because they come in all the time. We can help them overcome some of their hesitancy just because of the relationships we have.”

Meanwhile, getting migrant workers into the pharmacy to initiate that relationship was a primary problem.

“Another barrier is simply that they are so busy with work during the [harvest] season that they don’t have time to get vaccinated,” Higgins said.

With the help of a student pharmacist interning in his pharmacy, Higgins formed a partnership with Idaho State University College of Pharmacy, and together, the community pharmacy and the school applied for and were awarded a federal grant to help them vaccinate migrant workers in Idaho against COVID-19.

Through the grant, Higgins was able to keep his pharmacy open late two nights a week and for half of the day on Sundays in order to accommodate the typical schedule of the migrant workers. The grant covered the cost of a Spanish-language interpreter during the pharmacy’s extended hours. It also covered the cost of vaccines for uninsured patients. Additional state funding allowed the pharmacy to advertise the extended hours on Spanish-language radio stations and well-placed billboards.

The program ran throughout the fall of 2022 and brought dozens of migrant workers into the pharmacy for vaccines.

“When they came in, we made sure they felt comfortable. All the paperwork was available in Spanish, and the interpreter could speak to them in their language,” Higgins explained.

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Higgins hopes to offer extended hours again next fall so migrant workers can receive updated COVID-19 vaccines as well as flu shots.

While Medical Clinic Pharmacy didn’t administer vaccines to the town’s entire migrant workforce, Higgins knows that vaccinating even a few in his community can have a major ripple effect.

Not only does one vaccine help protect vaccinated individuals and the people who live in close quarters with them, but it also helps protect people outside the United States when the migrant workers travel back to their home countries.

Moreover, for a population in which health literacy may be low and skepticism of the health care system may be high, when one trusted member of their community gets vaccinated, it often leads to others getting vaccinated too.

“They go back and spread the word to their friends and family. They’ll say, ‘Hey, I got the vaccine. Now you go and get one.’”

Resources to Reach Diverse Communities about the importance of COVID-19 vaccination and Community Outreach Tools to help initiate partnerships with local organizations are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.