Pharmacist Dismantles Vaccine Myths for Adolescent Patients and Their Parents

Pharmacist Dipan Ray (right) preparing to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at Touro University in New York City.

Pharmacist Dipan Ray (right) preparing to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at Touro University in New York City.

Last year, shortly after adolescents became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, pharmacist Dipan Ray, PhD, was administering vaccines on a Saturday at a Rite Aid pharmacy in New Jersey. When a mother and daughter arrived for the appointment, Ray assumed both would be receiving the vaccine. After vaccinating the mother, Ray asked whether her daughter also wanted to be vaccinated. When the adolescent girl replied that she did not want the vaccine, Ray asked her why.

“She said, ‘Because I’ve heard some stories, and if I get this shot, I won’t be able to have children one day,’” Ray recalled.

Ray says that combating misinformation has been a unique challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. “People are going on Google, social media—Facebook, Twitter—and getting all kinds of stories, and they don’t realize that they are all myths,” he said.

When Ray asked the girl where she had heard that messaging, she answered that it was from a friend at school. Ray then explained to her that he was a health care professional as well as a professor of pharmacy and that he could assure her the COVID-19 vaccines were safe and did not cause infertility. After a little more discussion, she agreed to get the vaccine.

Dispelling these myths, Ray says, takes time. “I don’t want to lose any patients due to wrong information. I have to spend time with them and make sure that they are comfortable.”

Adolescent patients and their parents, he adds, may require even more time. “Parents have tons of questions before we give the shot to their children. They need to be really assured that nothing is going to happen to their child,” explains Ray.

While administering COVID-19 vaccines over the course of the last year and a half, Ray has gotten plenty of practice dispelling vaccine misinformation. As a faculty member at Touro College of Pharmacy in New York City, Ray and his colleagues spearheaded Touro University’s twice-monthly vaccine clinics across its three campuses in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. The clinics were open to faculty, staff, students, family, and friends.

Ray oversaw logistics, which involved integrating thaw time for the vaccines into travel time from campus to campus and recruiting faculty from various disciplines, including health professions and information technology.

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The university clinics required great effort, but Ray still wanted to do more. Licensed in the state of New York, where he works, Ray resides in New Jersey. He said, “During the pandemic, I started to think that if I got my license in New Jersey, too, I could contribute more to my community. So, I took the exam and I passed.”

Immediately, his email inbox was filled with requests from various pharmacy chains for him to work as a part-time immunizer. Having been employed at Rite Aid previously, Ray decided to return there. Every Saturday, during peak demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, Ray drove 35 miles each way to work a 12-hour shift vaccinating patients.

More than a year after the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States, Ray says that falling case numbers now help champion use of the vaccine. He recommends that pharmacists use these numbers to illustrate the vaccine’s benefits when encountering patients who are still deciding whether to get vaccinated.

“The number of [COVID-19] deaths and hospitalizations are going down,” explained Ray. “That really indicates that vaccines protect life. We lost a million lives in 2 years. The vaccine is protecting those of us who took it already.”

Resources to Answer Common Questions about COVID-19 vaccine and tools to Tailor Your Outreach to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence in specific populations are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.