Staying Up to Date Supports Pharmacist’s Readiness to Express Vaccine Confidence

Pharmacist Ashley Pugh (left) with Union University student pharmacists at a COVID-19 vaccination drive-through clinic in Jackson, Tennessee.

Pharmacist Ashley Pugh (left) with Union University student pharmacists at a COVID-19 vaccination drive-through clinic in Jackson, Tennessee.

As a pharmacist at several busy Kroger Pharmacies in and around Jackson, Tennessee, Ashley Pugh, PharmD, hears a lot of opinions about COVID-19 vaccines. While many patients eagerly visited the pharmacy to get vaccinated as soon as they were eligible, other patients picking up their prescriptions regularly tell Pugh why they won’t get the vaccine.

Some people believe tales they’ve read on social media, including the fabrication that the drive to get people vaccinated is a government ploy to control the masses. Some fear that the vaccine will infect them with the COVID-19 virus—or they worry that the technology to create the vaccine is too new to be safe and the FDA authorized it too quickly. Others say they don’t need it because they’ve already had COVID-19. And, of course, there are those who think they’ve avoided the virus well enough so far without a vaccine.

To counter vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, Pugh says it’s important to always stay one step ahead of her patients.

“Information about the vaccine hits mainstream media the same day that it does the medical resources. So, it can feel like patients are ahead of you if you’re not staying up to date daily,” Pugh said.

She advises pharmacists to dedicate a little time each day to inform themselves about the concerns patients raise most. Pharmacists should make sure they can explain how mRNA vaccines work; how the COVID-19 vaccines gained emergency use authorization so quickly; and the most common side effects of the vaccinations.

“The thing that has been most helpful to me in my practice has been obtaining the information myself so that I am confident in what I am recommending,” Pugh said. “If you are the least bit uncertain, patients detect that, and they’re much less confident in what you’re telling them.”

A clinician’s personal experience can go a long way toward building trust with patients too. Pugh, who is in her 30s and healthy, had COVID-19 early in the pandemic. Despite her health status and age, she experienced symptoms from the virus that made her feel far worse than the vaccine did. She makes sure patients understand that. Pugh also emphasizes that even though she has had the virus, the vaccine is still necessary for her.

When Pugh is not vaccinating and counseling patients at a Kroger Pharmacy, the assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Union University helps keep her students one step ahead.

“Student pharmacists work as interns in community pharmacies, and they are often the health care contact for their family and friends,” she said. “A lot of them were overwhelmed with COVID-19 information coming out so rapidly. They didn’t know what to explain to patients and how to digest it themselves.”

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Pugh helped organize a series of town halls that students could attend in person or via teleconference. Prior to the meetings, students submitted their questions using an online form. Then Pugh and a panel of other experts tackled their questions and taught students where to find credible resources.

Pugh also identified another need student pharmacists had at the beginning of the vaccine rollout. “Student pharmacists are not trained to give vaccines in a drive-through setting. In their training, they and their patients are seated,” Pugh said. “When we started participating in drive-through clinics, I recognized that students probably needed some supplemental training.”

To instruct students on proper form while leaning into a car window to administer an injection, Pugh pulled photos from the media of non-examples and used them as teaching tools. “We’d say to the students, ‘We know you may be seeing images like this, but this is not the correct way,’” she said.

While Pugh has administered numerous vaccines at Kroger Pharmacies over the last several months, she has had a hand in many more vaccinations against COVID-19 by way of the student pharmacists she has empowered with training and information.

—Sonya Collins
May 2021

Resources to Know How COVID-19 Vaccines Work, Know the Vaccine Development and Approval Process, and Answers to Common Questions about COVID-19 Vaccines are available by clicking the hyperlinks.