Community Rallies Around Sick Young Mother by Getting Vaccinated

Pharmacist Ralph Sorrell counsels a patient prior to administering a COVID-19 vaccine at Ritch’s Pharmacy in Mountain Brook, Alabama.

Pharmacist Ralph Sorrell counsels a patient prior to administering a COVID-19 vaccine at Ritch’s Pharmacy in Mountain Brook, Alabama.

When children first became eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, Ralph Sorrell, BSPharm, didn’t see much uptake in Mountain Brook, Alabama, the Birmingham suburb that Ritch’s Pharmacy serves.

“Parents just have a lot of anxiety about making that decision for their children, so we are seeing about 50% hesitancy in that population,” Sorrell said.

Parents seemed more worried about the perceived risks of the vaccine than the risk of COVID-19 itself. Sorrell explained to parents that vaccines protect other people besides the vaccinated children. He also emphasized that a fast-growing body of evidence shows the vaccine is safe, and the possible side effects are mild and fleeting. He reminded them that past generations of parents had the same concerns about giving their children the polio vaccine, but the benefits far outweigh the risks.

While some parents were still unconvinced, Sorrell’s information about COVID-19 vaccines won many people over.

A couple of months after the FDA expanded emergency use authorization of COVID-19 vaccines to include children, many parents who had previously held off started to trickle into the pharmacy—a few more each day than the day before. These families all had one thing in common: they were somehow connected to the young son or daughter of a local woman who was receiving chemotherapy for colon cancer.

“Whereas before there had been anxiety about the possible side effects of the vaccine, when they learned about a community member who was immunocompromised and they understood the risks for her, now there was an overwhelming reason for them to get the vaccine,” Sorrell said.

First, the two children’s classmates and parents began to come in for vaccination, then their soccer teammates and parents, and eventually the families in their social circles and other broader networks.

“It just mushroomed and exponentially increased the number of vaccinations we were able to give to that population,” Sorrell explained.

Now Sorrell shares the story with other patients who may not yet feel compelled to get themselves or their children vaccinated against COVID-19.

Practice Pearl

Educate patients that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 will not only help them, but it will help protect others who are at risk of severe complications from COVID-19.

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“I tell them, ‘Not only are you protecting yourself, you’re protecting those around you. Some are elderly, some are immunocompromised, some have multiple diseases. You and your children might survive COVID, but not everyone would,” Sorrell said.

Some people who come through the pharmacy are just tired of hearing about the pandemic altogether. For those patients and pharmacy customers, Sorrell has a special message, too. “The more vaccinations we give, the fewer replications of the virus and the fewer mutations we get, and fewer mutations mean we eradicate the whole pandemic that much quicker.”

To date, Sorrell and his team at Ritch’s Pharmacy have administered an estimated 16,000 vaccines.

Resources and tools to help Answer Common Questions about COVID-19 vaccine and to help Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.