Student Pharmacist Brushes Up on Arabic to Bring Vaccine to Muslim Community

Student Pharmacist Brushes Up on Arabic to Bring Vaccine to Muslim Community

Student pharmacist Hala Daghlas-Yusuf administers a vaccine to a patient during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Islamic Center of Cleveland in Parma, Ohio.

Hala Daghlas-Yusuf, a student pharmacist at Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Pharmacy, was trained as an immunizer just in time to administer COVID-19 vaccines. One week she was practicing injections on oranges and colleagues, the next week she began administering vaccines to patients, and soon she was vaccinating hundreds of patients per day at mass vaccination clinics.

“It was very exciting,” Daghlas-Yusuf enthused. “It really felt like I was a part of something big.”

The first group of patients that Daghlas-Yusuf vaccinated were her colleagues—health care workers at Cleveland Clinic, where she is a pharmacy intern. Once all the health care workers had been vaccinated, she wanted to vaccinate people in the community. And she knew exactly which community she was eager to serve.

“As a Jordanian-Palestinian, growing up in a family and culture that was pretty vaccine hesitant, I wanted to go back to my roots and to the places where I knew there would be hesitancy, and for me, that was the local mosques,” Daghlas-Yusuf shared.

In preparation, Daghlas-Yusuf, who says her Arabic was proficient enough to carry a general conversation, needed to brush up on her Arabic health and medical terminology.

“I wanted to be able to answer in Arabic all of the frequently asked questions on [COVID-19 vaccine] side effects, how it works, what it does, and why you need it,” explained Daghlas-Yusuf.

When Daghlas-Yusuf arrived at the first mosque-based vaccine drive with her pharmacy colleagues, her head was the only one covered with a hijab, so patients lined up for her station. And it was the same when she participated at subsequent vaccination clinics at the mosque that month. Some happened after Friday prayers. Another occurred during Ramadan after the governing body of the Muslim faith issued a statement that Muslims could receive the vaccine during the holy month.

“I didn’t even know these people, but I think they were moving into my line because they thought that gave them the best chance of getting their questions answered.”

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Patients’ questions made it immediately clear to Daghlas-Yusuf that the members of the local Muslim community didn’t have the information about COVID-19 vaccine that she thought they did. One patient, in particular, stood out to her. The woman had numerous questions about side effects and was under the impression that the vaccine caused permanent side effects.

Daghlas-Yusuf sat down with the patient for about 20 minutes until all of her questions were answered. Still, after the conversation, the woman left without getting vaccinated. But several weeks later, when Daghlas-Yusuf was back at the mosque for another vaccination clinic, the woman returned and asked for Daghlas-Yusuf.

“She told me I was the first person to answer all her questions, which shocked me, and that she now felt comfortable and had come back to get her vaccine,” Daghlas-Yusuf explained.

For Daghlas-Yusuf, this has been the most meaningful part of participating in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. It wasn’t providing the vaccinations themselves; it was giving people the information that they needed to have confidence in the vaccine and make decisions for themselves.

“When I explain something to a patient, or answer a question, and I see them have that light bulb moment where they understand what I mean, that means a lot to me,” Daghlas-Yusuf said. “We are in an uncomfortable time because of COVID-19…so being able to give someone enough information to be comfortable making a decision about their health care, that’s been the biggest reward for me.”

—Sonya Collins
May 2022

Resources to Answer Common Questions about COVID-19 vaccine and Reach Diverse Communities are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.