Pharmacist to Community: Vaccines Aren’t About You, They’re About Others

Pharmacist Beverly Schaefer, co-owner of Katterman’s Sand Point Pharmacy in Seattle, Washington.

Pharmacist Beverly Schaefer, co-owner of Katterman’s Sand Point Pharmacy in Seattle, Washington.

For Beverly Schaefer, BSPharm, immunizations are about keeping neighborhoods safe and healthy—both at home and abroad. The co-owner of Katterman’s Sand Point Pharmacy in Seattle, Washington, has gone to great lengths to get COVID-19 vaccines out to the most vulnerable members of her community. She also emphasizes to patients in her travel health clinic that a COVID-19 vaccine is a critical part of any travel immunization regimen.

“People ask me if I’m tired of giving COVID-19 vaccines, and I say, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. I’m keeping my neighborhood healthy.’ That’s the mantra. Every immunization keeps the neighborhood healthy,” Schaefer said.

At the onset of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Katterman’s unexpectedly received 200 doses that her pharmacy team would have to administer in just 48 hours. On a Friday, Schaefer dug into the pharmacy’s patient database and began calling every patient aged 70 years or older in an attempt to schedule 200 appointments for that Sunday. Every older adult who didn’t already have an appointment somewhere else leapt at the chance to get the vaccine. Those who already had appointments scheduled elsewhere referred Schaefer to their friends and neighbors in the same age group.

One patient, whom Schaefer previously called, had a vaccine appointment for the following Tuesday and asked whether his neighbor, an older adult with cancer, could take the appointment. Schaefer took the neighbor’s phone number and invited him to come to the pharmacy to get vaccinated.

“We called more than 200 households, the most vulnerable members of our community, and almost no one said ‘no,’” said Schaefer.

In Katterman’s busy travel health clinic, Schaefer emphasizes the importance of COVID-19 vaccines for travel anywhere in the world.

“To get on a plane, go through a crowded airport, to do any kind of traveling, people should have the best protection immunization-wise that they possibly can, and that means having a COVID-19 vaccine,” Schaefer said.

Recently, a family came to the travel health clinic to get the vaccines that they needed for an upcoming international trip. A couple and their two teenage sons were traveling to Kenya to meet up with the couple’s daughter and son-in-law, who were adopting two small children there.

The couple was accepting of the pharmacist’s recommendations to get yellow fever and hepatitis vaccines and malaria prevention medications, but when Schaefer mentioned COVID-19 vaccines, they declined. “They said, ‘Oh no, we’re not getting that,’” Schaefer recalled.

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Schaefer doesn’t typically spend a lot of time disagreeing with patients about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. That part, she says, is a given. She instead emphasizes that the reason to get vaccinated is not for oneself—it’s for others.

The pharmacist explained to the family that they could be vectors for COVID-19 if traveling while unvaccinated and thus infect residents of the small village where their granddaughters were born. She also pointed out that their unvaccinated status could cause people who don’t have easy access to health care to become sick or even die.

Schaefer then dropped the subject. She administered the other vaccines, gave the family their emergency nausea and diarrhea medications, and concluded the travel health appointment. “Then the husband said, ‘We think we will get that COVID-19 vaccine.’ It was one of my biggest victories,” Schaefer said.

The key to winning people over to immunizations, Schaefer says, is to keep it simple and straightforward.

“If they argue about it, we don’t argue. We just make our plain statement, and it’s hard to refute. Immunizations save lives.”

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