Pharmacy Technician Joins Pandemic Response as an Immunizer

Odessa Abut (left) and her Walgreens Pharmacy colleagues prior to a vaccine clinic at Lahainaluna High School in Lahaina, Hawaii.

Odessa Abut (left) and her Walgreens Pharmacy colleagues prior to a vaccine clinic at Lahainaluna High School in Lahaina, Hawaii.

When “Frank” came into Walgreens Pharmacy in Maui to pick up his prescriptions, Odessa Abut, CPhT, Pharmacy Operations Manager, asked him whether he was ready to get his COVID-19 vaccine that day.

“No, no, no, I won’t be getting any vaccine,” Abut recalled the man saying. “So, I asked him, ‘Can you tell me what you’re fearful about?’”

Frank, a local restaurant owner, was worried that the vaccine was intended to hurt people. Abut and her supervising pharmacist listened to his concerns and patiently responded that if that were true, all the health care workers would have been the first to be hurt by it since they were first to get the vaccine. Knowing that Frank is overweight, works in a restaurant, and lives with multiple chronic health conditions, she added, “You are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19—not from the vaccine.”

But Frank was unmoved. He paid for his prescription medications and once again left the pharmacy without getting vaccinated. Then, a month later, when picking up his medications, Frank told Abut that he was ready to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Abut, who became a temporary COVID-19 immunizer under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act declaration that extended this authority to qualified pharmacy technicians under the supervision of a pharmacist, did the honors.

“This is a really big achievement for pharmacy technicians, and I am so happy that I can be a part of the pandemic response in this way,” Abut said.

What Abut enjoys most about immunizing holdouts like Frank is that once they finally come in for the vaccine, their family members often follow. She said, “They will come back again or call and ask, ‘Can you vaccinate my wife? Can you vaccinate my mother? My son?’”

Since Abut became an immunizer, she has vaccinated hundreds of residents of Hawaii. In addition to all the walk-in patients who visit the pharmacy daily, Abut and colleagues have run vaccination clinics for the employees of nearly a dozen hotels and the students and staff of local high schools.

Among the patients who especially stood out to Abut over the last year were an older couple to whom she recently administered booster shots. The couple had barely left their house since the pandemic began and now that they were boosted, they were finally going to travel to see their children and grandchildren.

“They cried and thanked me and hugged me, and when they cried, I cried too,” Abut said. “Because I imagined my mother in their shoes. She is also a high-risk person, and I wondered what it would have been like if she hadn’t left her house for all that time.”

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Though new patients seeking a COVID-19 vaccine file into the pharmacy every day, Abut still meets patients who continue to stand firm against the vaccine. With each of them, she takes the same approach and often, she says, her approach bears fruit.

“You have to respect each person’s individual beliefs, but you also have to look into their eyes and tell them the truth about the vaccine,” Abut said. “Tell them you are not going to try to force them to get it. Encourage them to think about it and come back when they’re ready.”

It may seem like a longshot to expect that patients who’ve been holding out against the vaccine for more than a year now would ever decide to get it, but, like Frank, many of them do.

—Sonya Collins
January 2022

Resources to Know What Drives COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence and tools to help pharmacy teams Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination with patients can be found at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.