Pharmacists Play a Critical Role as Vaccine Rollout Gains Steam
This article first appeared in the Hamilton Spectator.
Canadians over 40 can now get the AstraZeneca vaccine at pharmacies, and in Ontario, the government says the over-30 age group will be welcomed too as soon as there’s enough supply..
Lowering the age group for COVID-19 vaccines means more shots in the arms of Canadians. That’s a good thing, especially as case counts soar and already stretched-thin hospitals struggle to keep up with a surge of patients.
But while COVID-19 vaccines are shown to be effective and safe, changing guidance and poor communication has shadowed the vaccine rollout. That has led to confusion, vaccine shopping, and in some cases, flat-out refusal to get the jab. As more Canadians are able to get the vaccine, the overarching message should be that the best vaccine is the one you are offered.
While many people are eager — and lining up for hours — to get a vaccine, around one in 10 Canadians don’t plan on getting the COVID-19 vaccine, a new survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found. An April poll by Angus Reid found that 54 per cent of Canadians said they’d be uncomfortable receiving the AstraZeneca-branded shot.
These findings are concerning and speak precisely to the need for strong communication as part of the public health response. And perhaps more than any other health care provider, pharmacists have become the front line in addressing vaccine hesitancy.
Research shows that pharmacists can encourage vaccine uptake in patients by engaging in open-ended conversations, and that workshops on how to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy can equip pharmacists to respond effectively. In fact, we recently looked at this issue and found that a simple phone call with a pharmacist can increase flu vaccine uptake by 67 per cent in vaccine-hesitant patients aged 65 and older — a finding that can help inform the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Pharmacists already advise Canadians on their prescription medication and are experts at delivering information, in easy-to-understand terms, on possible side effects and best practices. Pharmacists and health-care providers can explain the risks associated with any vaccination, particularly tailored to people’s individual health circumstances. Dismissing patients’ concerns does not build confidence. Instead, a more human approach is needed.
Without open dialogue between patients and health care providers, people are left searching for answers on their own. As we know more than a year into the pandemic, the internet can be a source of dangerous COVID-19 misinformation.
Canadians should feel extremely confident with pharmacists playing a key role in the vaccine rollout. We have close relationships with our patients who see us as a trusted source of health information.
Pharmacists are the bridge between physicians and the community. Pharmacies are the places people go to get prescriptions filled, their annual flu shot, and for health advice.
And now, they’re also the place thousands of Canadians can roll up their sleeves and feel confident about getting their COVID-19 vaccine.
Find out how we can assist your COVID-19 response on our COVID-19 clinical tools hub.
Amarpreet Singh is a Toronto-based pharmacist and the senior director of clinical services at Think Research. Nihal Abbas is a Mississauga-based pharmacist and a quality control specialist on Think Research’s R&D team.