Talking With Patients Who Have “Had Enough” of COVID-19 Vaccines
Pharmacist Adrienne Stute administers a COVID-19 vaccine to an older patient at the Harris Teeter Pharmacy in Pinehurst, North Carolina, where more than half the population is over age 65 and more vulnerable to severe illness from the virus.
Adrienne Stute, PharmD, knows when there’s an uptick in COVID-19 infections in Pinehurst, North Carolina, even before she hears about it in the news. She’ll start seeing more prescriptions for the antiviral medication Paxlovid at Harris Teeter Pharmacy where she practices. In a town known for golf courses and retirement communities, more than half the population is over 65 years old—an age group at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19 if infected by the virus and thus candidates for the antiviral treatment.
During a recent uptick, an older adult wearing a mask walked up to the pharmacy counter with some questions for Stute. He told her that he had recently attended an event, and 5 of the 60 people there had since tested positive for COVID-19. He wanted to know what precautions he could take to avoid getting the virus.
“He said, ‘I don’t know what to do, but I don’t think I want another shot. I’ve already had enough of those,” Stute recalled.
In the predominantly over-65 population, Stute’s patients have had more doses of COVID-19 vaccine than most people in other age groups. Almost every day, she encounters patients who say, “Enough is enough.”
Pharmacists should be prepared for patients who feel this way, Stute advises, and be ready to explain why vaccination is still necessary.
Inform patients that COVID-19 as well as flu and RSV are viral respiratory diseases for which vaccines provide protection.
Since August, Stute has been filling prescriptions for Paxlovid with increasing frequency, so the first thing she tells older patients who aren’t gung-ho on another dose of the COVID-19 bivalent vaccine is that COVID-19 is on the rise once again in their community. She reminds them that as older adults, they are still among the most vulnerable to severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Finally, she refers to COVID-19 as one of several respiratory viruses, alongside influenza and RSV, that people can and should protect themselves against by getting vaccinated.
“Any kind of respiratory virus is dangerous, and any kind of protection that you can give your body against it or against the symptoms that coincide with it, the better off you’re going to be,” Stute said. “I just remind people of that.”
Besides a bit of vaccine fatigue among her older patients, Stute also finds that patients of all ages are no longer aware of the latest news regarding COVID-19 vaccines. Two years ago, they knew exactly when it would be their turn to get the coveted shot. These days, many are unaware of the bivalent vaccine and that if they are 65 or older, they are eligible for two doses.
For this reason, Stute says, pharmacists should take every opportunity to remind patients about every vaccine. “If they are over 50, I ask them about shingles, and if they are over 65, I ask them about pneumonia and the updated COVID-19 vaccines.”
Resources to Know What Drives Vaccine Confidence and to help Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.