Pharmacist Builds Vaccine Confidence in Refugee Families at Interprofessional Health Clinics

Pharmacist Jerica Singleton reviews vaccine information with a patient in the ambulatory clinic at USF Health in Tampa, Florida.

Pharmacist Jerica Singleton reviews vaccine information with a patient in the ambulatory clinic at USF Health in Tampa, Florida.

Jerica Singleton, PharmD, is getting used to patients accepting and respecting her recommendations regarding COVID-19 vaccines. But it was the pandemic that helped shore up pharmacists’ position as immunizers in the communities she serves, said Singleton, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Clinical Research at the University of South Florida (USF) Taneja College of Pharmacy.

“The pandemic created almost a forced proximity between pharmacists and patients because pharmacies and grocery stores were the most available outlets for some patients, so everyone started to feel comfortable getting vaccines from pharmacists, pharmacy interns, and ultimately pharmacy technicians,” said Singleton.

At the clinics she runs along with pharmacists, student pharmacists, and students from other health professions through USF Taneja College of Pharmacy’s participation in the APhA-ASP Operation Immunization program, Singleton sees that “everyone feels comfortable with pharmacists because we’ve established these relationships already.”

Singleton notes that these relationships have helped facilitate conversations with families visiting the back-to-school clinics and Tampa Bay Street Medicine refugee health clinic, where she administers vaccines and addresses barriers. Refugee families may be behind on their vaccinations, or there may not be any record of their vaccine history available. Additionally, because the COVID-19 vaccines are not required for school or participation in other activities, Singleton often needs to explain why they should choose to be vaccinated.

“If they’ve already received a few doses, we need to make clear the importance of the boosters and getting full coverage against COVID-19 and any other vaccine-preventable disease,” Singleton said.

At the refugee health clinic, Singleton often cares for multigenerational families. She seizes these opportunities as teaching moments. When entire families are behind on vaccines, she said, “For the most part, you’re vaccinating everybody with many of the same vaccines, so it’s a good time to provide education on why that’s necessary.” She has had these conversations with families that included everyone from grandparents to grandchildren to help them feel more confident about vaccines as a way to protect against COVID-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

While administering COVID-19 vaccines over the last 2 years, Singleton has learned some lessons about how to be ready in the event of another pandemic that might require a nationwide effort to vaccinate the population. The time to get out the message about the importance of vaccines is now and always.

Practice Pearl

As we move into a post-pandemic world and the demand for COVID-19 vaccines dies down, pharmacists should continue to educate patients on the importance of vaccines and to make themselves known as trusted health care providers and vaccine experts.

Learn more

Singleton advises that pharmacists continue to participate in public events, such as health fairs and pop-up clinics, even outside the context of a pandemic or other public health emergency.

“It’s about continued education, outreach, and making our names and faces known,” Singleton said. “The more people hear about vaccines, the more confident they are in new ones when they come out and the roles pharmacists play in public health.”

Resources to help Educate Your Health Care Team to Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination with patients is available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.