There’s No Vaccine Question This Student Pharmacist Won’t Answer

Student pharmacist Anna Lopez Concepcion vaccinates a patient against COVID-19 at Randalls Pharmacy in Houston, Texas.

Student pharmacist Anna Lopez Concepcion vaccinates a patient against COVID-19 at Randalls Pharmacy in Houston, Texas.

As a newly minted immunizer, student pharmacist Anna Lopez Concepcion was spared no challenge with patients who were hesitant to be vaccinated against COVID-19. She began vaccinating while on clinical rotations with the University of Houston College of Pharmacy at Randalls Pharmacy. After the rotation, she was hired as a contracted immunizer. Early during her stint at Randalls, Lopez faced one of her most challenging patients. The experience prepared her for all her future years of educating hesitant patients about COVID-19 vaccines.

Although the patient had made an appointment and arrived at the pharmacy to get the COVID-19 vaccine, when Lopez called her name, the woman said she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to go through with it. Lopez asked the patient about her concerns. The patient fired off a litany of questions: How is it manufactured? How is it stored? Has it been stored correctly? How is it made? What’s in the vaccine? Does it contain the virus? Does it contain heavy metals? What are the side effects? Has it been studied enough? The list went on.

“Even though I was shocked by all the questions, I could tell this was a big issue for [the patient], so I just put myself in her shoes and tried to explain everything,” Lopez said.

Over the next half hour, Lopez pulled up studies, CDC recommendations, and the manufacturer’s package insert and FAQs on her computer screen while the patient followed along.

“The general public does not look at research like pharmacists do, so I felt it was beneficial for her to see what that looks like,” Lopez said. “She had just been very, very misinformed.”

Lopez used the studies to showcase the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and the most likely side effects. She reviewed the vaccine ingredients list and explained the role of each one to the patient. Finally, Lopez explained exactly what would happen in the patient’s body when immunized.

Practice Pearl

Don’t assume patients are hesitant for no reason. Hear them out and address all of their concerns one by one.

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After Lopez satisfactorily answered all of the patient’s questions, the woman said she wanted to see the vaccine vial and watch as Lopez drew up the product. Lopez obliged, and the patient accepted the vaccination.

Following this memorable vaccination appointment, Lopez felt like there was no patient she couldn’t handle. Over the last year, Lopez has vaccinated hundreds of patients at Randalls Pharmacy. She’s become skilled at distracting children with questions about their lives so that they don’t pay attention to the shot. She also takes time during the vaccination appointment to offer patients—both children and adults—recommendations for other vaccines they may need based on their age and any additional risk factors.

Lopez’s goal with each patient is to make sure the experience is positive. For some, it means spending 30 minutes finding the answers to all of their questions.

“The most rewarding thing for me is to get positive feedback from patients later,” Lopez said. “They are back in the store and say, ‘Oh, I remember you. You gave me the vaccine. I didn’t even feel it,’ or ‘Thank you so much.’”

Resources to Answer Common Questions about COVID-19 vaccine and Know What Drives Vaccine Confidence are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.