Hospital Pharmacist Breaks Down Vaccination Barriers by Meeting People Where They Are
Representing Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare are pharmacist Jennifer Twilla, Assistant Director of Pharmacy (center), Monica Wharton, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer (left), and Michael Ugwueke, President and CEO (right), during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
In early 2021, the Tennessee Department of Health determined that the Shelby County Health Department required assistance with COVID-19 vaccinations to meet the needs of the community. The state contacted area hospitals to discuss ways that they could ramp up their efforts to ensure every county resident who wanted to be vaccinated could do so. Among these hospitals was Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in Memphis, where Jennifer Twilla, PharmD, was in charge of the health system’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
Now, in addition to coordinating hospital-based vaccine clinics, such as those Twilla arranged for immunocompromised organ transplant recipients, she coordinated clinics for the community at large. In response to the county’s needs, Twilla made it her mission for the health system’s vaccination efforts to reach as many people as possible and reflect the area’s diverse population. To meet her goal, she partnered with area churches, with a particular emphasis on African American churches; school districts; large and small businesses, including FedEx and International Paper; and Latino-facing organizations to coordinate vaccination clinics.
“This allowed us to have a very far reach to different communities, including underserved communities,” Twilla said.
These partnerships extended reach into the community and helped prevent burnout among immunizers. “Burnout is real, so it’s super important to partner with your community and lean on your resources and other people in the community that can help you in your efforts,” Twilla said.
Twilla and her community partners tailored each COVID-19 vaccine clinic to meet these organizations’ individual needs, including their schedules and locations. “Paramount to our success,” she said, “was going to them. We had to make it easy for everyone to get information about the vaccines and the vaccine itself.”
Providing broad access meant hosting clinics throughout the greater Memphis area at all hours, including nights and weekends. “At FedEx, we vaccinated up until midnight some nights to make it easier for people who worked different shifts,” Twilla explained.
While vaccination clinics, by nature, draw people who are eager to receive the vaccine, clinicians also had to be prepared to work with individuals who, despite booking an appointment, are still unsure about rolling up their sleeves. The immunizers need both the time and the information to address any concerns that come their way.
Lean on partnerships and community resources to help with vaccine efforts and to avoid burnout for immunizers.
“Several community members were apprehensive or still a little skeptical when they arrived,” Twilla said.
One patient, in particular, Twilla recalls, was extremely anxious. “She had shown up, but she still needed reassurance that she was doing the right thing for herself and others in the community,” Twilla said.
A critical element of Twilla’s response, she said, was acknowledging that it was understandable to be afraid. After validating the patient’s feelings, Twilla talked with her and explained the data that supported the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine. The patient decided to proceed with the vaccination, but because she was so anxious, she became dizzy and upset afterward. Even though the patient had already consented to be vaccinated, Twilla knew the patient needed more attention.
“The clinic manager and I sat with the patient, reassured her, and alleviated her concerns with evidence-based information,” Twilla said. “She left in good spirits and planned to send her son based on her experience with us.”
Community Outreach Tools and resources to Answer Common Questions and Know What Drives Vaccine Confidence are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.