Student Pharmacist Uses Immunization Registry to Start Vaccine Conversations

Student pharmacist Geetha Lingechetty in the laboratory cleanroom at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy in Chapel Hill.

Student pharmacist Geetha Lingechetty in the laboratory cleanroom at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy in Chapel Hill.

Recently, a mother and child visited their local Harris Teeter Pharmacy in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for flu shots. As she usually does with patients requesting vaccines, student pharmacist Geetha Lingechetty searched for the patients’ names in the North Carolina Immunization Registry (NCIR).

“We use this tool to let patients know, when they come in for any vaccine, which other vaccines they might be due for,” said Lingechetty, who is a second-year student at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Upon searching the online NCIR, Lingechetty let the woman know that her daughter was due for a COVID-19 vaccine, but the woman declined, citing a rare and serious side effect of the vaccine that a child in their neighborhood had experienced. She didn’t want the same thing to happen to her daughter.

Lingechetty explained that serious side effects were very rare, but the odds that a kindergartner could be infected by the COVID-19 virus at school and bring it into their household, which included an elderly grandparent, were very high. But the mother still was not convinced.

Finally, Lingechetty and the pharmacist on duty discussed the clinical trials and shared data with the woman that showed just how unusual it was for young children to experience any serious side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“When the pharmacist and I showed her data regarding serious side effects in pediatric populations, this was what finally moved her. The data were convincing enough that she was willing to have her child vaccinated,” Lingechetty explained.

Instilling vaccine confidence, Lingechetty said, is all about tailoring the message to each patient’s individual concerns.

“I find that rural and underserved urban populations in North Carolina have lower health literacy rates, so simply explaining what the vaccine does and how it works definitely helps to win them over,” said Lingechetty.

Another day, an older patient from a rural area came into the pharmacy to pick up her prescription medications. Lingechetty checked the NCIR and then informed the woman that she had received only her first COVID-19 vaccine dose, however she hadn’t received any of the subsequent doses. The patient didn’t realize that there were multiple doses and boosters involved. The patient also explained to Lingechetty that she lived a relatively isolated life way out in the countryside. Her family lived far away, and she rarely saw them. Therefore, she didn’t have any concern about COVID-19 exposure.

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Lingechetty asked the woman whether she goes grocery shopping. When she nodded yes, the student pharmacist detailed how the COVID-19 vaccine follow-up doses would work in her body to protect her from getting infected with the virus at the supermarket.

“Letting her know what the vaccine does in the body once it’s injected really helped [increase her vaccine confidence],” Lingechetty said. The patient agreed to vaccination that day.

Resources to help Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination and Answers to Common Questions about COVID-19 vaccines are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.