Marshall University School of Pharmacy Steps Up to Vaccinate the Community

Student pharmacist Brandon Keaton administers a COVID-19 vaccine at Marshall University School of Pharmacy in Huntington, West Virginia.

Student pharmacist Brandon Keaton administers a COVID-19 vaccine at Marshall University School of Pharmacy in Huntington, West Virginia.

When the first COVID-19 vaccines became available, faculty and students at Marshall University School of Pharmacy stepped up to help ensure frontline workers and underserved people in the community could get vaccinated quickly and easily. The pharmacy faculty and students took a multi-pronged approach to address both barriers to vaccinating those who wanted the shot and hesitancy among those who weren’t sure. Their efforts targeted the predominantly African American community of the Fairfield neighborhood in Huntington, West Virginia, where reservations about the vaccine were widespread.

From the start, Marshall pharmacists wanted to allay vaccine concerns in the community. Three faculty from the School of Pharmacy and a clinical pharmacist from St. Mary’s Medical Center hosted a virtual town hall. Focusing on the local African American community, the Q&A session was attended by some 800 community members.

Participants’ main concerns were whether the vaccine was safe and had been sufficiently tested. The pharmacist and physician moderators explained the clinical trial process that the vaccines had undergone and the evidence for their safety and efficacy.

“Vaccines were offered weekly in Fairfield after that, and people showed up consistently, so I believe the town hall really helped,” said Gayle Brazeau, PhD, former Dean of the Marshall University School of Pharmacy and current Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Pharmacy faculty also teamed up with the Huntington Black Pastors Ministerial Association to help ensure that accurate messaging about COVID-19 vaccines made it to the pulpits of Black churches and to their congregations.

“The most important thing about convincing anyone to get the vaccine is that the message has to come from someone they trust,” Brazeau said. “Sure, you may trust your pharmacist, but there may be somebody you trust more, like a neighbor, a member of your church, or your pastor. And the community here is very much centered around the church.”

Marshall University School of Pharmacy was also instrumental in ensuring that every schoolteacher in Cabell and Wayne counties who wanted the vaccine could get it quickly and easily. The university’s pharmacy faculty and students ran several vaccine clinics in the counties’ school gymnasiums to vaccinate hundreds of teachers and other staff.

“Teachers in West Virginia, including college professors, were considered frontline workers, so fortunately, we were able to get them vaccinated very quickly,” Brazeau said.

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The team then returned several weeks later to vaccinate eligible teenagers.

With each of these groups—underserved, minority communities, adolescents, and frontline workers—the key to success is building trust, Brazeau said. “When pharmacists have already built strong relationships with patients and their families, they are comfortable asking questions about the vaccine.”

Brazeau emphasizes that winning someone over may not happen in a single conversation. “You have to keep mentioning that vaccines are safe and effective and stress how many millions of people have already gotten it.”

When patients want to know how the vaccine works, pharmacists should explain in clear and simple terms. “But sometimes,” Brazeau warns, “the science gets complicated and that’s where you lose people, so just make sure you emphasize that it’s not just to protect you—it’s about protecting your family and friends and coming together as a community.”

—Sonya Collins
October 2021

Community Outreach Tools and COVID-19 vaccine resources to better Know the Vaccine Development and Approval Process are available by visiting APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.