Trusted Pharmacist Vaccinates a Community’s Last Holdouts
Pharmacist Shadreka McIntosh after administering a first dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to her 7-year-old son and his 9-year-old friend at Sozo Wellness Pharmacy’s pediatric vaccine event.
A fourth-generation native of the Dunbar community in Fort Myers, Florida, Shadreka McIntosh, PharmD, wanted to serve the area’s underserved, predominantly African American residents. In August 2021, she opened Sozo Wellness Pharmacy, the first pharmacy in the area in more than 40 years.
Opening a pharmacy during a pandemic, McIntosh immediately set to work testing and vaccinating patients for COVID-19. She quickly learned that many of her neighbors and community members hadn’t yet stepped up to get the vaccine. As an African American community pharmacist well known around the area, McIntosh has been able to foster the trust necessary to get the last holdouts to roll up their sleeves.
“If they didn’t already know me, they probably know my mom or maybe one of my relatives,” McIntosh said. “So, they know how to find me and know I [won’t] bring anything into the community that would harm them.”
One group in particular seemed especially resistant to receiving the vaccine: young African American men. But McIntosh had success in winning many of them over.
“Once you vaccinate a community leader, they tell their friends where to go to get the vaccine,” McIntosh said.
After McIntosh vaccinated a local barber, she saw many other young African American men follow his lead. “A barber can be seen almost like a counselor among African American men. Once this barber got vaccinated, he told lots of other men that they should get vaccinated too and sent them here.”
McIntosh saw similar results after she vaccinated the owner of a local car wash. He, too, sent many of his young male customers to Sozo Wellness Pharmacy.
In addition to immunizing patients who come to the pharmacy seeking the vaccine, McIntosh continues to persuade those who say they’ve decided against it. “You can’t approach them with the mindset that you want to ‘convert’ them,” she says. “The goal should be to give them accurate information to help them make an informed decision.”
“When people feel they are getting accurate information and aren’t being pressured or judged, that eliminates [some] main barriers to vaccination,” McIntosh emphasized.
In one case, the mother of a local collegiate football player already had COVID-19 and felt that she didn’t need the vaccine. Yet, once the football season began, she’d be attending crowded football games where few people wore masks, leading her to wonder if perhaps she did need the vaccine to avoid being infected again.
“I explained to her that she would get the best possible protection against COVID-19 by having had it in the past and also getting the vaccination on top of that,” McIntosh said. “I think she came in with the hope that I would confirm her belief that she didn’t need the vaccine, but when she got some factual information, she ended up changing her mind.”
Vaccinating a leader of a population with COVID-19 vaccine concerns will encourage others in that population to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Nearly a year after the vaccine became available, McIntosh continues to provide first and second doses and boosters to those she describes as “a little late to the party.” With each patient, her approach is to acknowledge that person’s fears and avoid judgment. She has also taken this approach outside the pharmacy to drive-through vaccine clinics at local churches. These events reap double rewards, she said, as they bring people to get vaccinated at the event and prompt others to seek vaccination at the pharmacy.
“Having some patience and being a trustworthy source of information in a nonjudgmental space really helps,” McIntosh observed.
Cultural perspectives on vaccination can vary. Pharmacists can access resources to aid discussions on the importance of COVID-19 vaccination and learn more about what drives vaccine confidence through APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.