Patients Want to Hear From Clinicians With Shared Racial or Ethnic Identity

Pharmacist Justin Ellis (far left) with his CVS colleagues before an in-store COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Phoenix, Arizona.

Pharmacist Justin Ellis (far left) with his CVS colleagues before an in-store COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Phoenix, Arizona.

“They say that the last few pounds are the hardest to shed,” remarks Justin Ellis, PharmD, a district leader for CVS Health in Phoenix, Arizona. The pharmacist points out that this concept also applies to the push to get the remaining holdouts vaccinated against COVID-19.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the challenge was to meet demand and vaccinate as many people as fast as possible. Today, the challenge is to win over those who haven’t yet been vaccinated and who don’t expect they ever will.

Whenever possible, Ellis approaches this challenge by ensuring that those who are hesitant to roll up their sleeves can get information from someone who looks like them and talks like them. Sometimes that’s one of the pharmacy technicians who works on his team. Sometimes, it’s Ellis himself.

At one of the 60 vaccine clinics that he coordinated at long-term care facilities across Arizona, Ellis met an African American senior who wasn’t sure about getting the vaccine and wanted someone to sit down and talk with him about it. Ellis, who is also African American, talked to the man about how the vaccine worked and how he knows that it is safe.

“At the end of the day, [the older man] decided he would get the vaccine, and I feel it had to do with the fact that he got a reasonable explanation from another person of color,” Ellis said.

This is one of several such experiences that Ellis has had since the COVID-19 vaccine became available in which he felt that some patients needed to get the facts about the vaccine from someone who looks like them.

Understanding that many patients of minority backgrounds value representation among health care providers, Ellis tries to offer that experience for patients as much as possible. When staffing vaccine clinics at CVS stores that serve the Latinx community, he schedules pharmacy technicians who come from that community as well.

“I sent a Spanish-speaking pharmacy technician, who had been great at our long-term care clinics, to one of these stores. She was able to talk to some of the hesitant patients and help break down those barriers in a way that might not happen with someone who was not a native [Spanish] speaker,” Ellis said.

In addition to the COVID-19 clinics that Ellis coordinated at long-term care facilities across Arizona, he has also coordinated and staffed the clinics at all CVS stores in the state. Those responsibilities included scheduling the clinics and hiring multidisciplinary teams to staff them. At a time when many people were opting not to work because of fears about the spread of the virus, Ellis sought out and found qualified clinicians who were eager to provide care.

“A lot of people were excited about the opportunity to make an impact and to have a legacy that they could tell their children and grandchildren,” Ellis said. “Some clinicians even came out of retirement to help with the vaccine initiative.”

Practice Pearl

Try to match hesitant patients, whenever possible, with clinicians who look or talk like them.

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Of course, representation isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to winning over more patients for vaccination: data also matter. As Ellis and his teams of immunizers continue to push to close vaccination gaps across the state, he says that time is now on their side. Whereas “it’s too new” was once a common concern among people who refused the vaccine, now more than 2 years of data support the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I know that we are all tired, but we need to dig in for a little longer and make sure that we are getting the most up-to-date and correct information out to our patients,” Ellis said. “Give them something they can take home. The data [are] ever-changing, but at this point, we have 2 years of it. So, it’s very important not to give up on this last leg.”

—Sonya Collins
March 2021

Resources to help Reach Diverse Communities and Know What Drives Vaccine Confidence are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.