Pharmacist Earns Trust of Some of the Toughest Customers

Pharmacist Claudia Taylor vaccinates a patient at the Cypress Station Kroger Pharmacy in Houston, Texas.

Pharmacist Claudia Taylor vaccinates a patient at the Cypress Station Kroger Pharmacy in Houston, Texas.

When it comes to getting the vaccine into arms, Claudia Taylor, BSPharm, is undaunted by angry customers. For several months after the vaccine rollout, Kroger Pharmacies executed what the corporation called The Bold Plan. From 9:00 to 10:00 each morning, pharmacists would only administer COVID-19 vaccinations. They wouldn’t fill prescriptions, answer phones, or perform any other pharmacy tasks.

A patient who wanted to wait while her prescription was filled became incensed to learn that vaccinations would take priority over dispensing of her medication. The woman yelled, cursed, and threatened to call Kroger’s corporate headquarters.

Unfazed, Taylor responded, “Have you had the vaccine?”

The patient told Taylor that she did not intend to get it. She recited numerous myths, including that the vaccine would kill her, might contain a government tracking device, would make her infertile, and was part of a plot to reduce the population.

Taylor has heard these fallacies many times at the Cypress Station Kroger in Houston, Texas. The pharmacy serves patients of all walks of life ranging from those who are well-resourced to low-income and medically underserved populations, including racial minorities, immigrants, and migrant workers. Taylor calmly responded to the agitated patient to allay her concerns.

“You have to be sincere and earn their trust,” Taylor said. She does this by spending time with patients and listening to them. She sits with them and gives them an audience for their fears.

Once patients have voiced their reservations, Taylor employs a few go-to tactics.

“Tell them stories,” said Taylor. She keeps up to date on news stories about COVID-19 and shares some that illustrate its grave dangers—such as a 24-year-old who opted out of the vaccine and later needed a double lung transplant due to complications of COVID-19.

“I tell them that they are a lot more likely to leave this earth if they get COVID than if they get the vaccine,” Taylor said.

Taylor sets an example with her own actions. The angry patient asked Taylor whether she had gotten the vaccine. “‘Absolutely,’ I told her. ‘I would not try to convince you to put something in your body that I don’t have in mine.’”

That’s when the patient started to calm down. The focus of her questions shifted away from misinformation campaigns and toward the logistics and cost of receiving the vaccine. Eventually, she agreed to get it. The patient walked out with her prescription and the COVID-19 vaccine that day.

All of Taylor’s efforts to vaccinate her community have been equally relentless. Though Kroger had dedicated the first hour of business each day to vaccinations, Taylor opened up twice as many appointments and went in an hour before regular pharmacy hours to start vaccinating people on her own time. Word traveled fast as to the abundance of appointments at the Cypress Station Kroger.

“My store attracted people from all over the city and some from outside of the United States,” she said.

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Her efforts didn’t go unrecognized. One morning when Taylor was vaccinating patients before pharmacy hours, a man who “looked important” observed her from a few feet away. When she offered him help, he said he was just looking around. But, a day later, Taylor learned the man was a local health official who had selected Taylor’s pharmacy to receive 500 additional doses of the vaccine. “I thought I had hit the lottery!” she said.

With great zeal, Taylor devised a plan to use those vaccines in five days. She came in two hours early on Sunday and an hour early on weekdays to give a total of 100 shots each day. She trained her staff to approach people in the store aisles to make sure customers knew there were vaccines available. “I was executing my own Bold Plan.”

—Sonya Collins
July 2021