Public Health Pharmacist Leverages Community Influencer to Spread Vaccine Confidence
Pharmacist Precious Hoffmann (right) talks to a colleague in front of the Virginia Department of Health mobile clinic for the Prince William Health District.
In the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Prince William Health District, Precious Hoffmann, RPh, and a team of public health nurses, community health workers, and Medical Reserve Corps make the rounds in the VDH mobile clinic. Over the course of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, they have taken the mobile clinic—a Ford pickup truck with a large trailer in tow—to underserved and diverse communities around the district.
The key to overcoming vaccine hesitancy in these areas, Hoffmann said, is to keep going back. “That way we become familiar faces in the community and that’s part of the draw that brings patients to us,” she said.
This was especially true at a mobile home park Hoffmann and her team visited at least three times. On their first visit, while they vaccinated community members who were eager to be immunized against COVID-19, a skeptical high-school senior stopped by. She had a list of questions for Hoffmann that ran the gamut from concerns about infertility to safety concerns related to how fast the vaccine was developed.
Hoffmann listened and answered each of the young woman’s questions, backing up her answers with data and offering printed take-home materials. Although the young woman didn’t have any more questions, she still didn’t get the vaccine that day.
When the mobile clinic returned four weeks later, the young woman was among the first in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.
After the high-school senior was vaccinated, Hoffmann said, “She turned out to be quite the youth leader and influencer. She drew out other young people in the area and their parents to get the vaccine.”
By the clinic’s third visit to the mobile home park, the young woman was personally escorting people to the trailer to get the vaccine. She remained on site during the clinic, offering encouragement and debunking myths to family, friends, and neighbors. She’d tell patients entering the clinic that the injection didn’t hurt and that the rumors about infertility were a myth just meant to scare people. She also encouraged patients to ask Hoffmann and her team questions about COVID-19 vaccine, emphasizing that the team truly listens and would address vaccination concerns.
“After discussing where the infertility myth came from, showing her the data and other information related to her questions, she was talking like a pro,” Hoffmann said.
Take the time to listen and inform. You never know whether the person in front of you will turn out to be an influencer.
Hoffmann and her colleagues have taken the clinic-on-wheels to barber shops, churches, and events, such as the Peruvian Festival in Virginia, that attract people from underserved and diverse populations. The team also operates the clinic after typical work hours and on certain weekends to make the clinic even more accessible to residents. The outsized trailer has a prep station, two vaccination stations, a bench for patients predisposed to fainting, and doors that close to allow for privacy.
Through the mobile clinic alone, more than 6,000 people in the district have received COVID-19 vaccines.
“The mobile clinic removes the barrier of access that people in so many of these communities face,” Hoffmann said, “and the ability to go back multiple times helps ensure that we build trust.”
Community Outreach Tools and resources to Tailor Your Outreach and Answer Common Questions about COVID-19 vaccine are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.