Pharmacist Takes Vaccines to Remote Corners of Arizona
Pharmacist and Assistant Professor Nicole Henry (left) of the R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy, Associate Professor Leila Barraza (right) of the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and a medical student (center) at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in central Phoenix.
For Nicole Henry, PharmD, the way to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is to meet patients where they are. She means both in their physical location and where they stand in their perspective on vaccines.
“I tell the students I train that if a patient is brave enough to ask a question about a vaccine, it’s not for us to pass judgment on them. We’re here to listen and to help them break down barriers one by one,” said Henry, who is a District Leader at CVS Health and an Assistant Professor at the R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy.
Henry has brought this open-minded approach to patients in some of Arizona’s most rural and remote areas. She finds that family and community ties are strong in those regions. When patients express reluctance to get vaccinated, she emphasizes the benefits for the patient’s family and community.
“We are able to address a lot of that vaccine hesitancy by talking to them about whether they know others who have gotten the vaccine or whether they have family members who have been sick [with COVID-19]. This usually convinces them to come back and get the vaccine,” Henry said.
Henry led a team of immunizers—composed of retired and practicing pharmacists, nurses, and physicians—to two rural, agricultural plants: Hickman’s Egg Farm and JBS Beef Plant. The team vaccinated more than 1,000 people, including employees and their family and friends, against COVID-19 disease.
When arriving at these major workplace events, Henry was prepared for any perceived barrier that patients might put before her. The facility provided interpreters, including those who spoke Spanish, Thai, Mandarin, and Burmese, so communication would not be a barrier. Additionally, Henry brought a variety of COVID-19 vaccine options, including those manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna, and Janssen.
“Some people come in with a preference for a certain vaccine because they know someone who got it, so they feel like they can trust it,” Henry said. “By offering options for patients, we helped decrease vaccine hesitancy.”
Ask patients questions to understand why they are hesitant to receive COVID-19 vaccine.
For some people in Arizona, the major barrier to vaccination is transportation. No patient population is too small to warrant local delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Kayenta, a part of the Navajo Nation, a handful of residents live too far from any pharmacy or Indian Health Service clinic to access the vaccine. Henry arranged for a friend who owned a plane to fly an immunizer and a few vials of vaccine out to this remote area, where they vaccinated 20 people.
“We wanted to make sure that those individuals were vaccinated so that they could protect themselves and their families,” Henry said.
Henry encourages pharmacists to ask vaccine contemplative patients questions, listen to them, and not to be discouraged by slow progress.
“Everyone who is hesitant feels that way for a reason, and we as pharmacists can certainly talk to them about it,” Henry said. “It might take lots of questions, provision of information, and use of motivational interviewing, but if you make an impact on just one person every single day, then you’ve made a difference.”
Resources to Answer Common Questions about COVID-19 vaccines and Know What Drives Vaccine Confidence are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.