Community Pharmacy Owner Shares Lessons Learned About Vaccinating Children

Certified pharmacy technician Marc Ost and the Philadelphia Eagles mascot, Swoop, at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, for a vaccine clinic.

Certified pharmacy technician Marc Ost and the Philadelphia Eagles mascot, Swoop, at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, for a vaccine clinic.

Marc Ost, CPhT, grew up in community pharmacy. His father was a pharmacy owner in Philadelphia for 40 years. Early in his career, Ost worked with his father at that pharmacy before becoming co-owner of Eric’s Rx Shoppe in nearby suburban Horsham, Pennsylvania.

“I learned what community pharmacies can do, and it’s more than just fill and dispense,” Ost said. “You can go the extra mile and provide patient services, but in order to do that, you really have to know your patients. People trust the community pharmacists that they know.”

Ost’s long-standing experience building relationships with the community has been a key to his pharmacy’s success in administering more than 80,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine since it received emergency use authorization. When the vaccine was approved for children ages 12 years and older, schools began reaching out to Ost and Eric’s Rx Shoppe directly to ask that they provide COVID-19 vaccinations for the students.

“They saw how we handled the first 3 months of pandemic craziness, and they had relationships with us through various people in the pharmacy,” Ost said. He had grown up in the community and had attended the local elementary, middle, and high schools himself. Now Ost’s own children, as well as those of another pharmacy technician at Eric’s Rx Shoppe, attend the local public schools.

Through running COVID-19 vaccine clinics at the local schools, Ost learned three critical lessons about vaccinating this population.

Lesson 1: “Crying is contagious.”

When a child comes into the school-based vaccine clinic already showing signs of distress beyond what might seem typical, Ost and his team have learned to immediately whisk away the young patient to provide care in a private, quiet room.

“If a kid is crying and screaming and other kids see that, it makes them anxious as well. So, we’ve learned to be proactive about it,” Ost said.

Lesson 2: “Don’t tell them it isn’t going to hurt.”

Ost and his team are keenly aware that children’s early immunization experiences in the school-based vaccine clinics will shape their attitudes toward vaccinations and health care for years to come.

“If you tell them it won’t hurt and then it hurts even a little, then your word is no good—and they may not believe anything else that you say,” Ost explained.

Lesson 3: “Help families leave feeling fulfilled by their vaccination experience.”

Convincing people to get vaccinated should be done without pressuring or badgering them. Ost wants parents and children to leave knowing why they got the vaccine and feeling good about their choice.

Practice Pearl

Take time to understand and address vaccine concerns so families leave feeling fulfilled by their vaccination experience.

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That’s why the immunizing team spends time with families when needed to make sure all their questions are answered and all their concerns are alleviated. Ost recalls a mother who seemed as hesitant about having her son receive the vaccine as the little boy himself.

“Our immunizer spent a half hour with them,” Ost said, “explaining the science to the mother and why the vaccine was necessary. You don’t want them to just agree to get the vaccine and then leave thinking, ‘Why did I do this?’”

These types of conversations about COVID-19 vaccines need to continue, Ost says. While the vast majority of people in his community and across the country who want the COVID-19 vaccine series have already gotten it, the pharmacy owner underscores that you never know the individual circumstances of anyone who walks into the pharmacy.

“Continue doing what you’re doing because you might ask ten people, and if just one person says, ‘yes,’ then you’re still making a difference.”

Resources to help Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination and Tailor Your Outreach to specific populations are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.