Public Health Pharmacist Brings Vaccine Confidence to Black Communities

Pharmacist Marlene Battle (right) with Ricky Bryant, director of New Tyler Barber College in North Little Rock, Arkansas, which hosted a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

Pharmacist Marlene Battle (right) with Ricky Bryant, director of New Tyler Barber College in North Little Rock, Arkansas, which hosted a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

Early in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Marlene Battle, PharmD, was approached by a patient at the medical clinic in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she practiced. It was there that a young Black woman confessed to Battle that she believed COVID-19 vaccines were designed to kill people who look like her.

In a moment of candor, Battle, who is also Black, revealed to the patient that before the vaccine became available, she had been ill from the COVID-19 virus. While her case was considered mild, it had made her sick enough that she never wanted to risk getting infected again. Additionally, she shared that as a mother of six, her children were another reason why she didn’t hesitate to be vaccinated. Battle even showed her immunization card to the patient with the assurance that she had received all the recommended doses and lived to tell the tale.

Battle was convincing. Not only did the woman have a change of heart and decide to get vaccinated, but afterward, she brought her son to the clinic for the vaccination.

This patient is just one of many minorities who have raised concerns with Battle about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Some people said they don’t trust the government. Some people mentioned the Tuskegee experiment,” Battle said. “There’s a lot of mistrust and misinformation because of things that happened in the past and people’s emotions from that.”

Since that encounter at the clinic nearly 2 years ago, Battle has made it her mission to build vaccine confidence and increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Black and other underserved communities through her current position as Health Equity Coordinator for the Arkansas Pharmacists Association.

“I’m a firm believer in meeting people where they are,” Battle said. “Part of combatting vaccine hesitancy is making people as comfortable as possible and that includes in their own settings.”

Among the settings where Battle meets patients in their comfort zones are barbershops and barber schools where she has trained other health professionals and health professions students to safely administer COVID-19 vaccines. Battle notes that a growing body of research suggests that some African-American men may be more likely to accept health education, screenings, and immunizations provided at their local barbershop rather than in a more traditional health care setting.

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Battle has also shared her message about COVID-19 vaccines over the airwaves of Little Rock–area radio stations. She’s appeared as a guest on segments on POWER 92.3 and REJOICE 103.3 & 105.5, including Ask the Doctor and Impact Zone. When she appeared on Impact Zone, the host, a psychiatrist, voiced her own concerns about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Just as Battle had shared with her patient in the clinic, she told the radio host and listeners, “This vaccine is not meant to hurt or kill you. I’ve had it, and I’m still alive and breathing.”

The psychiatrist host often recounts this story for listeners, Battle said. “She’ll tell you that my testimony was the deciding factor for her to get the vaccine.”

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