Pharmacists Take Necessary Time With Vaccine Contemplators
Pharmacist Jordan Smith, Healthcare Supervisor for Walgreens in Indianapolis, Indiana (right) with pharmacist Jasmine Gonzalvo, Director of the Purdue University Center for Health Equity and Innovation (middle), and Kathy Hahn Keiner, Chief Impact Officer of Gleaners Community Food Bank of Indiana (left) at Gleaners’ first drive-through COVID-19 vaccine clinic.
More than a year after COVID-19 vaccines became available in the United States, and months after demand had begun to wane in the general population, patients continued to line up to be vaccinated at food banks and homeless shelters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Into the spring of 2022, Jordan Smith, PharmD, along with a team of immunizers still vaccinated up to 1,200 carloads of people one Saturday a month by running a drive-through vaccination clinic at Gleaners Community Food Bank.
In populations that lack access to health care—or access to health information—questions and doubts about vaccines may persist much longer than in the population at large, which can delay vaccination. “The solution is time,” says Smith, who is Healthcare Supervisor for Walgreens in Indianapolis, Indiana.
At a food bank set up at John Marshall High School in Indianapolis, where Walgreens and Purdue University Center for Health Equity and Innovation hold a monthly vaccine clinic, the patrons are predominantly Haitian or Hispanic and many are pregnant or breastfeeding. Smith and her immunizer colleagues address numerous questions about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant women.
One woman heard that the vaccine would cause birth defects. She came to Smith with her questions around the same time that new data had come out about the safety of the vaccine for pregnant women. Enough time had gone by that some women who were vaccinated while pregnant had now given birth.
Smith and a pharmacist colleague from Purdue sat down with the woman to discuss her concerns. They explained why googling questions about vaccine safety doesn’t always yield credible information. Then they went over the latest evidence to support the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant women. Just because people ask questions doesn’t mean they are anti-vaccine. They might be contemplating vaccination and are seeking trusted information.
Take the time to answer patients’ vaccine questions. They’re coming to you because they trust you.
“We said, ‘This is what we’ve seen so far, so we highly recommend you get the vaccine to protect both you and your baby. It took an in-depth conversation of about 20 minutes, but she did decide to get the vaccine and has now had her second dose,” Smith said.
At numerous vaccine drives for underserved populations, Smith found that those who were the most unsure about getting vaccinated simply needed time. When potential patients came with question after question, Smith made sure to slow down and address each concern individually and thoroughly.
“It makes them feel comfortable because someone is taking the time and not rushing them. When you just keep answering their questions and spending time with them, many of them eventually say, ‘Ok, I’ll get it,’” Smith said.
Smith has applied this approach at the 81 Indianapolis-area Walgreens she oversees; 184 long-term care facilities; and numerous homeless shelters and food banks around the city. Though she knows that time is a limited resource in a busy pharmacy, she feels that giving the necessary time is part of the job description.
“A lot of times patients with hesitations will come into the pharmacy and take a lot of your time, but they’re coming to you because they trust you,” Smith said. “After all, we are the most accessible health care professionals. We have the most interactions with the public. So, I think it’s just part of our job and why we’re here.”
Resources to Tailor Your Outreach and Community Outreach Tools to increase vaccine confidence are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.