Vaccine Refusal Hits Home for Pharmacist

Jill Bebey, PharmD, vaccinates a resident at Carriage Green at Milford, an assisted living facility in Connecticut.

Jill Bebey, PharmD, vaccinates a resident at Carriage Green at Milford, an assisted living facility in Connecticut.

As soon as Connecticut began to receive its first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine, Jill Bebey, PharmD, responded to a call from CVS for immunizers of any health care discipline to work for the company temporarily throughout the rollout. “It was very exciting,” Bebey said. “I was thrilled to be a part of it. It was very empowering to be part of history and do something that would help bring us all back to normal.”

CVS sent Bebey to long-term care and assisted living facilities as well as clinics at various CVS stores around the area of Fairfield, Connecticut. She expected to encounter reluctance by some people to get the vaccine, but she was ready to have conversations with them about its benefits.

“Talking about the vaccine is like talking politics with somebody—you have to walk that fine line,” Bebey said. “If you push too hard, people get really agitated. It takes small conversations over time to move the needle.”

Clinics at long-term care and assisted living facilities were scheduled across three dates, each three weeks apart, with the expectation that some people would not have made the decision to get vaccinated on the first date. But once they saw their neighbors and hall mates were fine after the first dose, they’d be ready for their own first dose by the time those in the first round were receiving their second dose.

What Bebey didn’t expect was resistance to COVID-19 vaccination in her own home. Her 23-year-old son lives with type 1 diabetes. When the pandemic first hit the United States, the immunocompromised young man took no chances. She said, “He was very anxious about COVID…. He was worried about me being in health care and going out to work and bringing things home. He wouldn’t allow anybody in our house.”

Bebey spent the better part of 2020 worrying about her son. When the vaccine became available, she thought it would be the antidote to his anxiety. “But he didn’t want anything to do with it,” she said. “This was very, very difficult for me.”

At first, Bebey’s son wasn’t going to get the vaccine at all. Then, for months, he repeated the refrain that he wanted to wait and see how it went with all the other Americans getting the vaccine. By this point, Bebey had vaccinated more than a thousand people, but her son wouldn’t budge.

Bebey admits that in the face of those who refuse the vaccine—whether it’s residents in a nursing home or someone in her own family—it’s difficult not to get heated. Yet she knew that wasn’t the approach to take. Instead, she had to maintain her composure.

Practice Pearl

“You have to keep having those little conversations at every opportunity. Share the facts and listen. Exude confidence. When you are confident, patients will trust you.”

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In daily conversations over the course of a few weeks, Bebey explained to her son how the vaccine works, the minimal adverse effects in the people she had personally vaccinated, and the low risk that the vaccine would cause future side effects.

Still, her son remained steadfast against the vaccine—or so she thought, until one day, he told her that he was ready.

“You just have to keep having those little conversations at every opportunity,” Bebey said.

By the time her son agreed to get the vaccine, Bebey’s temporary stint at CVS had come to a close. So she and her son jumped in the car and headed to the nearest clinic, where he was vaccinated that day.

Bebey’s advice for other pharmacists is to approach every reluctant patient as you would your own son: be patient, take your time, and have the vaccination conversation repeatedly if that’s what it takes. “You have to have empathy,” she said. “Don’t get irritated. Meet them on their level and say, ‘I understand why you are nervous.’”

—Sonya Collins
August 2021