Pharmacy Professor Leverages Local Partnerships to Vaccinate Underserved People

Pharmacist Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir

Pharmacist Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir (far right) with pharmacy, medical, and public health students from Loma Linda University at a vaccine clinic organized for the Black community at the San Bernardino County headquarters of the Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement.

At a recent COVID-19 vaccine clinic overseen by Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, PharmD, an African American patient had just sat down in the chair to be vaccinated. But the patient hedged when a white student pharmacist approached her to administer the vaccine.

“She asked, ‘Am I being injected with the placebo?’” Abdul-Mutakabbir recalled. The student pharmacist explained that there was no placebo and that everyone was receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, however the patient was still unsure. Then Abdul-Mutakabbir intervened. Upon seeing the pharmacist who looked like her—an African American—the patient asked whether Abdul-Mutakabbir had been the one who drew the vaccine from the vial into the syringe.

“I told her I was the one who had brought the vaccines to the clinic and that I am the one who oversees the storing of the vaccine. Then [the patient] decided she would go ahead and get vaccinated because she had seen someone who looked like her that she could trust,” said Abdul-Mutakabbir, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy.

Early on during the vaccine rollout, Abdul-Mutakabbir was keenly aware of the hesitancy among many African Americans to get vaccinated.

Loma Linda University’s first COVID-19 vaccine clinic in early 2020 was the largest such event in San Bernardino County, the fifth most populous county in the state of California. The event saw as many as 1,900 vaccine recipients each day and 17,000 in total in just 6 weeks. But only about 3% of them—579 people—were African American.

“Yet, hospital beds were disproportionately filled by people of racial and ethnic minority groups,” Abdul-Mutakabbir noted, which promoted her to do more to reach this vulnerable population.

“We leveraged existing relationships with Black faith leaders and, after gaining their trust, utilized their infrastructure to deliver vaccine information,” said Abdul-Mutakabbir, who now leads the Loma Linda University COVID-19 Equitable Mobile Vaccination Clinics.

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Partnering with Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches (IECAAC)—a coalition of 22 African American pastors and churches—Abdul-Mutakabbir presented vaccine information to pastors, parishioners, and community members through a virtual town hall. She and her pharmacist colleagues then brought the vaccine clinics directly to the churches represented by IECAAC, where parishioners and local residents could receive the vaccine.

Through this initiative, more than 2,500 people from ethnic and racial minority groups, including African American and Hispanic individuals, have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Abdul-Mutakabbir is now leading the effort to provide booster shots to this population.

While Abdul-Mutakabbir has focused most of her efforts on getting COVID-19 vaccines out to minority groups, she emphasizes that pharmacists should not assume that all members of any racial or ethnic group share the same views on vaccines.

Some African American people, for example, may choose not to get vaccinated because of long-term mistrust of health care rooted in historic events such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Others may assume they can’t afford the vaccine. Still others may simply not like needles.

“Everyone has their independent reasons, and we have to try to get to the root cause and mitigate it. We can’t treat everybody like they are the same.”

Resources to Reach Diverse Communities, Tailor Your Outreach, and access Community Outreach Tools to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence can be found at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.