Pharmacist Gives Patients the Facts to Make Informed Choices

Pharmacist Dimmy Sokhal vaccinates a patient at Hayat Pharmacy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Pharmacist Dimmy Sokhal vaccinates a patient at Hayat Pharmacy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

When Dimmy Sokhal, PharmD, was a clinical pharmacist at Hayat Pharmacy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she served many families in the culturally and racially diverse area who were preparing for international travel.

For some patients, international travel brought an urgency to get all family members up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, but that wasn’t the case for everyone. Sokhal recalls three generations of a family—a mother, grandmother, and teenaged daughter—who visited the pharmacy for flu shots before a trip to the Middle East.

As always, Sokhal asked if they were interested in COVID-19 vaccines as well. The mother explained that she and the grandmother had already been vaccinated, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to get the vaccine for her daughter.

Understanding that the family had been concerned enough about COVID-19 to have the grandmother vaccinated, Sokhal focused on that aspect. “I explained that it’s important to protect not only her, but the whole family. It doesn’t make sense to vaccinate only the grandmother if you don’t vaccinate the others around her. To fully protect the grandmother, the granddaughter needs to be vaccinated, too.”

The mother listened, but she didn’t appear convinced. Sokhal took the family into a consultation room, where she asked a few more questions to get at the mother’s specific concerns. The woman was under the impression that the vaccine had not been tested on many young people and that the clinical trials had been limited almost exclusively to adults.

“I explained that the vaccine wouldn’t have been approved for use in children if it hadn’t been tested on children. It had to be tested on children, and the data show that it is safe and effective for them,” said Sokhal, who is now Clinical Pharmacist of Patient Care at UnitedHealthcare.

The pharmacist pulled up reported numbers to show the family how many children had received the COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials. She told them that children around the world had received the vaccine, and researchers had studied pediatric response to the vaccine before the FDA granted authorization to administer it to children in the United States.

“That was what grabbed [the mother’s] attention. She paused for a moment and said, ‘Okay, can you tell me more about that?’” Sokhal recalled.

Sokhal relayed to the mother how many more children had received a COVID-19 vaccine since its authorization. She also summarized the possible side effects and put those in context for the family.

“I asked her if she would give her daughter Tylenol and whether she thought it was safe,” Sokhal said. “Because even Tylenol comes with possible side effects that have required hospitalizations. Every medication we take comes with safety concerns.”

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Finally, Sokhal made clear to the mother that the decision was hers. “I said, ‘I am a mom, and this is what I did for my children. You are the mom, and you will decide what’s best for your children.’”

Sokhal left the family in the consultation room and gave them privacy to think about the information they had received. When she returned a few minutes later, the mother told Sokhal that she was ready to have her daughter vaccinated.

“Pharmacists have gained a lot of trust from the public during the pandemic, so we can have these difficult conversations with our patients,” Sokhal said. “You just have a calm discussion with them, share the data, address their concerns, and then leave the decision to them.”

Resources to Tailor Your Outreach and help Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination with patients are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.