Egyptian American Pharmacist Bolsters Vaccine Confidence Among Community Members
Pharmacist Hany Gerges administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at Care Plus Pharmacy in Palm Harbor, Florida.
Hany Gerges, BSPharm, is well known in Florida’s large Egyptian community. One in five US-based Egyptians lives in the Sunshine State, and Gerges wanted as many of them as possible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. As an Egyptian, an Arabic-speaker, and a pharmacist, Gerges knew he could leverage his influence to build vaccine confidence. But it wasn’t easy.
“Some people have religious reasons. Some say they don’t believe in COVID-19, or they think it was man-made,” Gerges said. Even his best friend refused the vaccine several times. “Then he got COVID,” Gerges said. “He was dying.”
An unlikely recovery brought with it his friend’s new attitude about getting vaccinated. The man was eager to get a COVID-19 vaccine and tell his story to others so they could protect themselves, too.
Gerges had already launched his own campaign. He started at his church, the Arabic-speaking congregation at Clearwater Evangelical Church, with targeted outreach to the oldest parishioners. He contacted them, asked if they had been vaccinated, and provided information about why and where to get the vaccine to those who had not yet been vaccinated.
Then, his recently recovered friend, who is Muslim, helped Gerges make inroads at the local mosque. The man introduced Gerges to the board, who then allowed Gerges to share information about COVID-19 vaccine with mosque members. The pair promoted the vaccine at the church and the mosque and directed congregants toward vaccination at Care Plus Pharmacy in Palm Harbor, where Gerges practices, and other clinics around the area.
Gerges also leveraged his position as a board member of the General Union of Egyptians United in the USA’s Florida chapter. At association meetings and events, he educated members about the vaccine and where to get it.
“We speak the same language; I’m a pharmacist; and I’m a leader in this community, so I already know how to overcome many of the barriers to getting vaccinated that patients see,” Gerges said.
The message today is no different than it was at the beginning of the vaccine rollout. “It’s always the right time to talk to patients about the vaccine,” said Gerges. Just last month, he administered 10 COVID-19 vaccines in one day to pharmacy patients who saw the need for a booster after they’d heard about the newest virus variant.
Although Gerges has worked to collectively get the word out about the vaccine to Egyptians and other Middle Eastern people living in his area, he notes that pharmacists also have to instill vaccine confidence in one person at a time. When his mother, who lives in Egypt, refused vaccination, he enticed her with the promise of a ticket to see him in the United States.
Pharmacists should take every opportunity to talk with people in their community about immunizations for vaccine-preventable diseases, including COVID-19 vaccine.
“You’ll have to show your vaccination card at the airport, so if you want to see me, you have to get vaccinated,” Gerges said. “And that’s what she did.”
Gerges tells of another friend who also refused his many pleas for her to get vaccinated—until she called him at the pharmacy to share that a friend had died because of the COVID-19 virus. She was crying. “I told her, ‘You have to come into the pharmacy today to get the vaccine,’” he recalls.
A few weeks later, when another of her friends died from COVID-19, she sent Gerges a note at the pharmacy. “Thank you,” it read. “You saved my life.”
Resources to help Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination and Community Outreach Tools to aid in connections and partnerships with local organizations are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.