Student Pharmacist Tailors Vaccine Messaging to Each Patient

Student pharmacist Julia Firestine (right) prior to a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Boyertown Area Senior High School in Pennsylvania.

Student pharmacist Julia Firestine (right) prior to a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Boyertown Area Senior High School in Pennsylvania.

Julia Firestine, a student pharmacist at Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, is winning over patients who have been unsure about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

At a recent family vaccine clinic hosted by The Medicine Shoppe in Boyertown, Pennsylvania, where Firestine is a pharmacy intern, a woman brought her two young grandchildren to be vaccinated. When Firestine asked whether the grandmother was the children’s legal guardian, she admitted that she was not.

Firestine explained that she couldn’t vaccinate the children without parental consent. The grandmother responded that the children’s parents were against COVID-19 vaccination, however the grandmother cared for the children regularly and didn’t want to be exposed to the virus as a result. Reluctantly, the grandmother called the children’s parents and asked them to meet her at the clinic.

When the parents confirmed that they didn’t want to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19, Firestine took the family aside to talk. Firestine explained that while she couldn’t force anyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine, she strongly encouraged it. Firestine told the parents of the greater concern about the risks of COVID-19, especially since their youngest child had asthma, than any risks associated with the vaccine. Firestine added that the grandmother’s concerns about the children’s potential to expose her to the virus was valid and that older adults could get more seriously ill from COVID-19.

“I explained that it was their decision but that this was just the same as protecting the children against whooping cough, pneumonia, and other vaccine-preventable illnesses,” said Firestine. “The only difference is that this is a new disease that’s affecting everyone differently, and we don’t know everything about it.”

The children’s mother made a few more attempts to make her case but eventually changed her mind. “She seemed to relax and then said, ‘You know what, let’s go ahead and get them vaccinated,’” Firestine recalled. The parents hadn’t been immunized either, but they returned to the pharmacy about a month later for their COVID-19 vaccine.

For this family, emphasizing the child’s asthma and the need to protect the grandmother were the most effective messages.

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Firestine tailors vaccine messaging to the individual patient. For example, a patient recently came into the pharmacy and wanted to chat with someone about COVID-19 vaccine. He told Firestine that his initial hesitation was because the vaccine was too new. He wondered, though, whether it was still considered new or if there were more data now to support its safety.

With this patient, Firestine discussed the data on the vaccine’s safety. She shared with him the FDA Emergency Use Authorization documents for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and let the patient take the documents home. Firestine also explained that since those documents were issued, investigators have gathered much more data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Eventually, the patient rolled up his sleeve and was vaccinated.

Resources to help Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination and Tailor Your Outreach to specific populations during COVID-19 vaccination discussions are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.