Pharmacist Helps Teenager Convince Mom to Get Vaccinated

Pharmacist Eric Beyer prepares for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for teachers at Sentinel High School in Missoula, Montana.

Pharmacist Eric Beyer prepares for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for teachers at Sentinel High School in Missoula, Montana.

Last May, outside Sentinel High School in Missoula, Montana, a couple dozen protesters gathered before a COVID-19 vaccine clinic. They held signs, passed out flyers claiming the vaccine caused infertility and miscarriage, and yelled “baby killer” as patients hurried inside the building. Parents and children entered the gym wide-eyed and frightened. Some were in tears.

When Eric Beyer, BSPharm, owner of Granite Pharmacies, who had coordinated the clinic, heard what was going on outside, his staff took swift action. Using the online scheduling platform, they sent a mass text and email advising every patient coming in that day to keep their car windows up until they parked and to come directly inside the school.

Beyer has kept his cool through all kinds of vaccine pushback that he has faced in Big Sky Country.

At the Montana Rail Link yard, where Beyer ran a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for rail workers, men snuck in, trying to secure the last appointment of the day, so they could get the vaccine in secret. They told Beyer that they didn’t want their coworkers to know what they were doing. Some said they didn’t even want their wives to know. One worker said he didn’t like what he considered to be overbearing pro-vaccine messaging; while he knew getting vaccinated was “the right thing to do,” he preferred to keep it to himself.

“I tell them, ‘No one has to know. You are doing this for your own personal use. You don’t have to tell anybody,’” Beyer said.

Another rail worker told Beyer through tears that she never would have come if her father hadn’t asked her via Zoom from his deathbed to get the vaccine. A family of COVID deniers, the father, in his 70s, had just died from the virus; the mother was in her last days of life from the disease; and the two middle-aged children, once skeptics, had now decided to get the vaccine.

Beyer has coordinated and run small COVID-19 vaccine clinics at area workplaces as well as mass clinics in high school gymnasiums that targeted kids ages 12 and older, their parents, and their teachers. At one such event, Beyer and his team of volunteer clinicians vaccinated 1,200 people in three days. But even at these events, where so many are eager for their turn, there are some people who are apprehensive.

At one clinic, Beyer reassured a woman who wasn’t going to get the vaccine until her daughter decided to be vaccinated. The mother was anxious about needles, and the father, who was not present at the clinic, feared the vaccine would render his teenage daughter infertile. The daughter decided for herself that she wanted the vaccine, and she asked her mother to accompany her.

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Beyer sat down with the tearful mother, now on the fence about getting the vaccine herself, and he assured her that the needle was small, the vaccine was safe, and infertility was not a risk. The mother got vaccinated that day and her husband and son came in for their shots the next day.

“Here was this whole family that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the vaccine until their 16-year-old daughter drove them in,” Beyer said. “Sometimes, all it takes is one person.”

Vaccine pushback comes in many forms in Missoula, and Beyer has come up with effective ways to address it. The pharmacist tells skeptics that he trusts the vaccine so much that he vaccinated his parents, his wife, and his two teenage daughters. He also shares that one of his daughters (who was infected before availability of the vaccine) had post-COVID conditions, known as long COVID, for months after having the virus; then, as he had hoped, her gastrointestinal, respiratory, and cognitive symptoms resolved after she got the vaccine.

Beyer offers logical thinking to people who have not yet been vaccinated. “I tell them, yes, the vaccine could make you feel sick for a few hours, but you can control when that happens with when you schedule the vaccine,” he said. “But you can’t control when you might get COVID.”

—Sonya Collins
August 2021