In the fight against the pandemic that has taken the lives of over 600,000 Americans, COVID-19 vaccines have offered safety, protection, and a promise to return to normalcy. As of July 2021, more than 180 million people have received their vaccination, the majority of which are fully vaccinated. This feat, however, would not have been possible without the hundreds of thousands of community pharmacies who stepped up to the plate and took on the challenge of vaccinating the nation — especially when chains fell short. From providing testing to offering supportive care to administering vaccines, community pharmacies have been on the frontlines against COVID-19, meeting patients’ needs with enthusiasm and innovation.
Halfway into the year, though, pharmacies are faced with a new challenge: closing the vaccination gap. Although millions of Americans have been vaccinated, just as many have not — creating an ongoing risk for individuals, families, and entire communities. In fact, the CDC reports that an estimated 45% of adults are unvaccinated.
Vaccine hesitancy is a complex problem that requires specific solutions. People are choosing to forgo the vaccine for a variety of reasons (and sometimes multiple reasons), but researchers speculate that it may be one of the following:
Not only do these misconceptions prevent the country’s recovery from COVID-19, but they negatively affect the future of healthcare, as fewer people seek out treatment and are forced to face the consequences. In order to return to “life as normal,” and more importantly, to protect communities — throughout COVID-19 and beyond — pharmacies must step up yet again and close the vaccination gap.
As the most accessible healthcare provider, community pharmacists and technicians have a unique opportunity to address vaccine hesitancy. While patients only visit their primary care providers and specialists a few times a year, they visit their community pharmacy much more often — even on a regular basis. Seeing patients more often gives you a better chance to start a conversation, hear patients’ hesitations, and address them in a timely manner.
And, if you have maintained a relationship with your patients — knowing more than just their prescription history or the services they see you for — they will be much more receptive to the input you offer. With this “trust factor” in place, you can educate patients, dispel misinformation, and give them greater peace of mind about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
Community pharmacy’s greatest advantage is personal connection, and when it comes to vaccine hesitancy, a connection can make all the difference.
The best way to address hesitancy is one of the simplest: with understanding, empathy, and education. When engaging in conversations with your patients, go about the process in a strategic way — not just working to “convince” more patients to get the vaccine, but helping them to feel comfortable doing so on their own accord. Use these best practices to help you along the way:
For the past year and a half, community pharmacies have set the precedent for comprehensive COVID-19 care. From the initial stages of the pandemic to today, they have offered an example of how to treat patients with concern and compassion.
The job isn’t over yet, though. As pharmacies work to bring the pandemic to a close, they must capitalize on the thing that sets them apart — personalized, value-based care — to close the vaccination gap and keep their communities safe.
Johns Hopkins - COVID-19 Vaccines: Myth Versus Fact