Community Pharmacist Says Patience Is Key to Building Vaccine Confidence

Amine Koussaye, PharmD, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at Union Pharmacy in Newton, Massachusetts.

Amine Koussaye, PharmD, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at Union Pharmacy in Newton, Massachusetts.

Not everyone who eagerly received the COVID-19 vaccine primary series when it first became available is as enthusiastic about getting their boosters. Amine Koussaye, PharmD, found that even his close friends weren’t keen on rolling up their sleeves a third and then a fourth time.

One of Koussaye’s friends had plans to visit family, including older relatives, for Thanksgiving, but he had no plans to get a booster shot.

“He was convinced that there was no benefit to boosters and that the pharmaceutical companies were just pushing them in order to make more money,” Koussaye said.

Koussaye explained to his friend that there are plenty of published data to show the benefits of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots. Then Koussaye appealed to his friend’s character by asking him whether it was worth the risk of infecting his grandparents and other older family members. The friend took some time to think about it and soon thereafter stopped in at Union Pharmacy in Newton, Massachusetts, to ask Koussaye to administer the vaccine.

“He got both the COVID booster and a flu shot, when he had previously said he’d never get another flu shot after graduating from college,” Koussaye said.

Around the winter holidays, Koussaye says, reminding people that the vaccine protects others has been a very effective message for those who may otherwise have been noncommittal. In good time, the fall and winter have brought an influx of new patients seeking booster shots.

Since the Moderna and Pfizer bivalent COVID-19 vaccines became available for booster doses in September 2022, Koussaye estimates he has vaccinated some 3,000 people—including children younger than 12 years of age and patients up to 100 years old.

Koussaye attributes the continuing high volume of patients, in part, to Union Pharmacy’s offering of vaccines on a walk-in basis.

“Pharmacies that offer vaccines by appointment may block off 15 to 30 minutes per patient, but you can vaccinate multiple patients in that time. By appointment, you may vaccinate only a handful of people every day. At our pharmacy, we can vaccinate over 100 in a day.”

Walk-ins are possible because the pharmacy has one pharmacist dedicated strictly to vaccines while other pharmacists dispense medications. But the walk-in format alone isn’t enough to maintain this steady flow of patients.

Koussaye points out that having patience with vaccinees is of utmost importance. With adults, he says, it’s important to be considerate no matter what concerns patients express about the vaccine. Patients who schedule appointments provide the vaccinator with the ability to plan ahead and provide special attention when the need arises.

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During COVID-19 vaccine conversations with patients, keep interactions positive and remind them of all the data that support the vaccine’s safety, effectiveness, and benefits.

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“First it was microchips, and now it’s that the drug companies are just trying to make more money,” Koussaye said of some of the complaints he’s fielded.

An argument Koussaye often hears against COVID-19 vaccine boosters is that vaccinated people are still getting sick. He is undaunted and lets patients know that he, too, has contracted COVID-19 several times even though he has stayed up to date on all the recommended vaccine doses. Koussaye points out that he could have been much sicker if he hadn’t been vaccinated. He feels that his transparency about having COVID-19 multiple times helps him earn his patients’ trust. This makes it more meaningful when he explains why he still promotes the vaccine despite having had breakthrough infections.

“You just have to be patient and explain. I take my time, and some patients really appreciate that,” Koussaye explained.

With children, Koussaye adds, he must demonstrate patience when they squirm, cry, or, in the recent case of two brothers, run away and force their mother to chase them around the store.

“You can’t expect to get them done as quickly as you can with adults,” he said. “You have to be patient. I’ve always been really patient with children.”

Resources to help Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination and Know What Drives Vaccine Confidence are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.