Pharmacist Encourages Patients to Protect Themselves Against Vaccine-Preventable Respiratory Diseases

Pharmacist Karen Taubenslag administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at the Harris Teeter Pharmacy in Alexandria, Virginia.

Pharmacist Karen Taubenslag administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at the Harris Teeter Pharmacy in Alexandria, Virginia.

Recently, a woman in her early 60s went to the Harris Teeter Pharmacy in Alexandria, Virginia, for a flu shot. Before administering the vaccine, Karen Taubenslag, PharmD, asked whether she’d also want COVID-19 and RSV vaccines, but the woman declined.

Nearly 3 years after COVID-19 vaccines became available, patients still are getting vaccinated against COVID-19. The difference between now and then is how patients understand the value of these vaccines.

When COVID-19 vaccines were initially available, many patients rushed to be the first in line to get the vaccine that would protect them against the dangerous virus. Today, their fear, to a great degree, has dissipated.

“Everyone who comes in for vaccines is mostly asking for flu and RSV, but if they ask for either of these, I always ask about the COVID-19 vaccine,” Taubenslag said, and their initial answer is often, “No.” They think it isn’t necessary anymore; they think they are up to date; or they don’t want more than one vaccine in a day. So Taubenslag uses logic.

“I explain to them that these are all respiratory viruses. If you are getting one of these vaccines, why would you not get the others?” Taubenslag said.

This rationale made sense to the patient in her early 60s, who was visiting the pharmacy that day. The woman got a flu shot as planned and returned the next week for the other two vaccinations.

In the community that Taubenslag serves, most patients are over 40 but not necessarily at the age when they would fear severe illness from COVID-19 infection. Because many people are no longer afraid of getting COVID-19 disease themselves, they may also be past the point of taking advice from health care providers who they don’t personally know. Practicing at a busy supermarket pharmacy in a D.C. suburb, Taubenslag doesn’t personally know a lot of the people who come in for prescriptions and vaccines.

“So, you can’t talk to them like the health care provider,” Taubenslag said. “You have to talk to them like you would one of your family members. Tell them, ‘My mom is like you’ or ‘My brother is like you, and this is the same recommendation I would make for them.’”

Practice Pearl

When patients receive a flu or RSV vaccine, ask if they’re interested in a COVID-19 vaccine too.

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While the threat of severe illness no longer resonates with much of Taubenslag’s patient population, the call for altruism still does.

“It’s not just for you,” she said. “It’s for everyone else, too. And I think people are more willing to get it when you explain it that way.”

Resources to Know What Drives Vaccine Confidence and help Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination with patients are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.