Many Parents Ponder: “Vaccine Is Fine for Me, But Is It Safe for My Child?”

Pharmacists Dena Gill (front center) and Jennifer McPhail (back left) with Harris Teeter pharmacy team members prior to a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

Pharmacists Dena Gill (front center) and Jennifer McPhail (back left) with Harris Teeter pharmacy team members prior to a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

This summer, a family—father, mother, and daughter—visited the Harris Teeter Pharmacy in Fort Mill, South Carolina, to get a half-dozen vaccines they’d need before traveling back to Greece after their visit in the United States. Among the immunizations needed was a COVID-19 vaccine for the school-aged girl. She was up to date on all her other vaccinations, and her parents were in favor of vaccines. But, for some reason, they had held out on getting her this particular one.

Even today, it isn’t uncommon, noted Jennifer McPhail, PharmD, for parents to get the COVID-19 vaccine themselves but have reservations when it comes to having their children vaccinated—even though they favor all other childhood vaccines.

“A lot of times, it’s that they are still concerned with the mechanism of action of these newer mRNA vaccines,” said McPhail, a staff pharmacist at Harris Teeter, who administered this family’s vaccines.

Just as McPhail was poised to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to the girl, the father stopped the pharmacist and asked, “Are you sure this is safe?”

“He knew it had to be done either way, but I didn’t want him to have doubts,” McPhail said. “It was one of those times that I felt I should just pause and provide that extra layer of comfort.”

McPhail put down the syringe and told the nervous parents about having her own children vaccinated. Then she explained that the vaccine is safe, but they might see some immediate short-term side effects, such as fatigue and a low-grade fever.

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When you’re up-front with patients about side effects and risks, she said, you build trust.

Ongoing questions about the vaccine’s safety and about mRNA technology are just a couple of patient concerns that pharmacists are still addressing almost 3 years into administering COVID-19 vaccines, said Dena Gill, PharmD, pharmacy manager at Harris Teeter in Fort Mill.

“COVID has picked up again in our area, so a lot of people are coming in and asking when their next booster is due,” Gill said.

When the vaccines initially became available, people who were eager to get a COVID-19 vaccine knew exactly when their turn was and when they were due for additional doses. However, these days, patients need to be asked, whenever they come into the pharmacy, when they had their last COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s always a good time to approach them about another COVID vaccine,” McPhail added. “Some people are knowledgeable and on top of it, but others have just lost track over the years of how many they’ve had or when their last one was.” When McPhail starts these conversations, many patients ask the same questions that they asked several years ago. They want to know whether the vaccine is safe, whether it’s necessary, and whether COVID-19 is even still a serious threat.

To respond to these questions, McPhail said, “It’s important to acknowledge that as pharmacists, we do have some bias when it comes to vaccines. It’s easy for us to jump on board and be excited about new vaccines. We have to put ourselves in our patients’ shoes and understand their perspective, especially when it comes to a parent caring for their child.”

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