Community Pharmacist Counters Misinformation With His Own Arabic-Language Podcast

Pharmacist Hashim Zaibak, creator of Al Siha (The Health Podcast), discusses COVID-19 vaccines during his podcast and with patients in his pharmacy.

Pharmacist Hashim Zaibak, creator of Al Siha (The Health Podcast), discusses COVID-19 vaccines during his podcast and with patients in his pharmacy.

In the Arabic-speaking community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a population estimated to be 10,000 to 15,000 people, vaccine misinformation seemed to spread almost as fast as COVID-19. Every day, patients would share with Hashim Zaibak, PharmD, new misinformation they had picked up through videos shared on WhatsApp, a free text messaging app in wide use among many foreign-born Americans.

“They get most of their news from WhatsApp, and everyone kept showing me videos and saying, ‘The vaccine is going to change our DNA. It’s going to make our children infertile,’” said Zaibak, who owns and operates Hayat Pharmacy, a small independent pharmacy chain in Milwaukee.

“I decided to counteract these messages with good information, and I started my own podcast,” Zaibak said.

The first five episodes of the Arabic-language podcast Al Siha (The Health Podcast) covered all things COVID-19 and vaccines. Zaibak reviewed the benefits and importance of the vaccine, its safety and efficacy in adults and children, the importance of boosters, and the available vaccine options. He also used the platform to debunk one myth after another.

Although Arabic-speaking patients continued to tell Zaibak about misinformation they picked up on WhatsApp, they also soon began circulating his podcast on the platform. “They’d see me in the pharmacy and say, ‘I heard your podcast on WhatsApp.’”

Through his podcast and multiple appearances on the local news, Zaibak has leveraged his position as a health care provider and respected member of the Arabic-speaking community to instill vaccine confidence in this population.

“When they hear me speaking about the vaccine in Arabic, they may feel like, ‘This person understands my culture,’” Zaibak said.

Zaibak notes that because Muslims will not use any medicine containing gelatin or other pork products, he fields numerous questions about whether any COVID-19 vaccines contain these ingredients. He prints out manufacturers’ ingredients lists to reassure patients that the vaccines contain no pork products.

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The pharmacist also made a video recording of when he vaccinated his 14-year-old son, which eventually aired on a local television news segment. This, too, was meaningful for members of his community. “People felt more comfortable. They said, ‘He wouldn’t do anything harmful to his own son,’ so we got more people who felt more comfortable bringing their own children,” Zaibak explained.

In one episode of his podcast, Zaibak discusses COVID-19 and travel. He found that many people in his internationally diverse patient population were coming in for PCR tests so they could travel internationally, yet still they refused the vaccine. When this happens, Zaibak speaks to the patients about the risk of traveling by plane for many hours, to the Middle East, for example, in close quarters with many people who may be unmasked.

“I make sure they understand how much it would ruin their trip if they got COVID-19. This approach works for many people, and they often get the vaccine,” Zaibak said.

Zaibak and the pharmacists at Hayat haven’t focused only on Arabic speakers. All told, the pharmacists at Hayat speak some 22 languages. They have put these international language skills to work to win over vaccine contemplative people from all over the world. The key, Zaibak says, is to focus your attention on those who could still come around.

“There is a group of people who, no matter what, they’re just not going to get vaccinated. We can’t put a lot of effort into them,” Zaibak said. “Focus on the bell curve.”

Through this approach, Zaibak and his team at Hayat have vaccinated more than 90,000 people in Milwaukee at area churches, schools, community organizations, long-term care facilities, the homes of homebound patients, and the pharmacy.

Resources to Reach Diverse Communities to address COVID-19 vaccine concerns, Answer Common Questions about COVID-19 vaccines, and Community Outreach Tools are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.