Pharmacist Travels Far and Wide to Vaccinate a Nervous Patient
Patient Caleb Bryant (left) and pharmacist Gretchen Garofoli (right) in Washington, Pennsylvania, after Bryant’s COVID-19 vaccination.
On a Wednesday in July 2021, Gretchen Garofoli, PharmD, administered a COVID-19 vaccine to just one man in a parking lot in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t during a vaccine clinic or any other type of organized event—it was just a single patient—but for Garofoli, who is a clinical associate professor at West Virginia University School of Pharmacy, this patient encounter was one of the most memorable.
Garofoli lectures online for a continuing education company, and Caleb Bryant, who lives in California, works for the company. That’s how he came to listen to a number of Garofoli’s presentations on COVID-19 vaccines. Bryant hadn’t received any vaccine in 12 years, and he didn’t plan on ending his streak. But after hearing Garofoli speak, he told her that the only way he’d get vaccinated would be if she were the one to administer the shot.
Although the geographical distance made the possibility of this highly unlikely, Garofoli told Bryant that if he ever found himself in West Virginia, Virginia, or Pennsylvania—the three states in which she is licensed to practice pharmacy—she’d be happy to administer the shot. A few weeks later, Bryant was bound for South Carolina to visit family. From there, he booked a flight to Pittsburgh with a return flight 5 hours later. He rented a car and met Garofoli in the parking lot of Sportsman’s Warehouse in Washington, Pennsylvania, halfway between the airport and Garofoli’s home in West Virginia.
Bryant, it turned out, didn’t have anything against vaccines. It was needles that he didn’t like. Yet there was something about Garofoli that he felt would make the experience just a little less awful.
“We have to listen to our patients,” Garofoli said. “Everyone who’s hesitant is hesitant for a different reason.”
Sometimes patients surprise Garofoli with a concern about vaccines that she has not previously heard. In every case, she listens respectfully and addresses the concern objectively.
During a vaccine clinic for staff and patients at a long-term care facility, an employee who had not yet received the vaccine had numerous questions. First, he asked about ingredients and then the side effects. His questions increased in complexity as the conversation continued. Finally, Garofoli recalled, he said, “Now I don’t want to leave anything off the table, so I’m going to ask this. It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but I’ve heard the COVID-19 vaccine was created to kill off Medicare beneficiaries because they are the biggest drain on the economy.”
“…you have to consider each person you vaccinate a win. We are protecting that person and potentially saving the lives of many people around them.”
Garofoli and the pharmacy resident took turns addressing the question. The pharmacy resident told the man, if that were the plan, it wasn’t working because the COVID-19 vaccine was extending the lives of Medicare beneficiaries, not shortening them.
All his questions answered, the man started to leave. As he neared the door, Garofoli called after him, “We’ll be here again next month if you decide you’d like to get vaccinated.” At that point, the man turned around and came back to them and said, “Just go ahead and do it now.”
“I think if we had pushed him to get the vaccine right then, it would have turned him off and he wouldn’t have done it,” Garofoli said.
To pharmacists who are facing burnout in the continued push to vaccinate the last holdouts, Garofoli offers this encouragement: “We are no longer doing the clinics where we vaccinate thousands of people as we did early on. In the timeframe that we once vaccinated 10 or 20 people, we are having lengthy conversations to answer the questions of just one person. But you have to consider each person you vaccinate a win. We are protecting that person and potentially saving the lives of many people around them.”
You can find answers to common questions about COVID-19 vaccines, resources to aid discussions on the importance of COVID-19 vaccination, and learn more about what drives vaccine confidence through APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.