Even the Most Health Literate Patients Have Questions About Vaccines

Olivia Kinney, PharmD, administers a COVID-19 antibody test at a Kroger Pharmacy in 2021.

Olivia Kinney, PharmD, administers a COVID-19 antibody test at a Kroger Pharmacy in 2021.

Since before the first COVID-19 vaccine became available in the United States, community pharmacists across the country have had to address misinformation about the vaccines. Olivia Kinney, PharmD, manager of clinical program development at Kroger Health, has made it her mission to ensure Kroger pharmacists are always prepared for any question or false claim that comes their way.

Throughout the pandemic, Kinney has stayed current with vaccine information through daily news reports; press releases from CDC, FDA, and other key health organizations; and communications with vaccine manufacturers. She also has kept track of the relentless misinformation via Twitter and other social media.

“That way I can explain how to debunk myths in a way that is kind,” Kinney said. “You can’t pass judgment on anyone who’s just trying to understand, so I worked hard to provide kind, unbiased, well-cited answers to all kinds of questions.”

Kinney, her clinical colleagues, and Kroger Health’s communications team determine which information goes into a weekly news digest for pharmacists and which information warrants an urgent push notification that interrupts pharmacy workflow. She also provides plenty of vaccine information via individual conversations, phone calls, and emails with the pharmacists and other clinicians who constantly reach out with questions.

“You can’t predict what kinds of questions patients will bring into the pharmacy, so, for me, it was key to equip the pharmacists with the latest science and the tools to explain it in an approachable way,” Kinney said.

Preparing frontline pharmacists to instill vaccine confidence in their communities has also prepared Kinney to instill confidence in her clinical colleagues. She points out that even the most health literate people, including the nurse practitioners and dietitians who work alongside her, can have questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines.

Practice Pearl

Don’t pass judgment on people based on their individual vaccine concerns. Even people with strong health literacy have questions about COVID-19 vaccines.

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“The health care providers I work with are health literate and believe in science, yet they would come to my desk and say, ‘Okay, I’m nervous,’ or ‘I’m nervous to give this to my children,’” Kinney recalled.

Knowing that, like her, they were driven by data and science, Kinney would walk any nervous colleagues through the latest vaccine data that she had culled from CDC and other sources. “That is an experience that’s had the greatest impact on me throughout the vaccine rollout—talking to leaders in our organization and helping them feel confident in their choice,” she said.

Instilling vaccine confidence in clinicians and health care leaders provided a new perspective for Kinney and deepened her empathy for anyone who has reservations as they navigate information about the COVID-19 vaccines.

“When new science is coming at you so quickly, even the most health literate people want to feel confident in their choice before they’re willing to get the vaccine,” Kinney said. “So, for people with a lower literacy level, these are very hard concepts.”

Kinney is certain that community pharmacists are best equipped to cover this last mile to get the remaining Americans vaccinated against COVID-19. Community pharmacists can lean on the trust they have built with their patients for years to have straightforward conversations about vaccines.

“Pharmacists’ greatest strength is their ability to connect with patients,” said Kinney. “Leveraging those relationships is what’s going to get the remaining people vaccinated in our communities.”

—Sonya Collins
March 2022

Resources to help Answer Common Questions and Educate Your Health Care Team about COVID-19 vaccines can be found at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.