Resurgence in COVID Cases Raises Vaccine Hesitancy Concerns
It’s back. Americans who thought they had had successfully put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror are slowly coming to realize that the virus is not quite done with them. As of mid-July the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 7-day moving average of 124,000 daily new cases – a 15.7 percent increase over the prior week.
The surge in new cases, driven primarily by the Omicron BA.5 variant, has fueled discussion about reimposing mask mandates, and the possibility of additional booster shots. This, despite evidence the latest variant is more resistant to existing vaccines than previous strains.
As drug companies work to update vaccines to counter specific variant characteristics, leading researchers continue to point to vaccinations as the most effective way Americans can protect themselves from the illness. “Vaccines remain our single-most important tool to protect people against serious illness, hospitalization, and death,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC said in a mid-July White House briefing. “And staying up to date is essential as we see BA.5 rise across the country.
Unfortunately though, this may be easier said than done. According to the New York Times, “about 73 percent of American adults are fully vaccinated, but so far just over a third have opted for a booster.” When researchers from the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston delved into the reasons for this hesitancy, key findings included:
- Political ideology – Survey respondents who described themselves as conservative were the most hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccines.
- Safety – Unvaccinated individuals expressed concerns about vaccine safety and efficacy.
- Financial Incentives – Many respondents said they would be more likely to receive a vaccine if they were given a financial incentive. How much? Well 18 percent said they would get a first shot for $250, while 24 percent put the price much higher at $750 for a first shot.
- Racial Differences – White participants had the highest vaccination rate (67 percent) compared with African American/Black respondents (61 percent) and Hispanics (60 percent).
- Flu Shots – Individuals who tend to get an annual flu shot were much more likely to be up to date on their COVID vaccines
Community pharmacists have long played a role in helping to allay patient concerns about vaccines, mostly by providing fact-based guidance, and putting potential risks in perspective. U.S. Pharmacist suggests several “open-ended” questions that pharmacists can use when counseling vaccine-hesitant patients. These suggestions include:
- Find out the patient’s concerns and fears about vaccines and address them with safety and efficacy information when applicable.
- Listen to the patient and acknowledge their fears or concerns and make them feel at ease by providing them with pertinent facts.
- Provide patients with information about how vaccines work and how the immune system responds to vaccines to build immunity.
- Provide patients with information on the clinical benefits of vaccines and the importance of staying up to date with vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Review the health implications associated with not obtaining vaccines for vaccine-preventable diseases.
- Discuss the potential adverse effects and how they are addressed. Use the fact sheets available from the CDC or other reputable health organizations such as the Immunization Action Coalition (IAC).
- Answer patient questions and make recommendations accordingly.
- Instruct patients to discuss any further concerns with their primary health care provider and obtain the provider’s recommendations based on their medical and medication history.
In consulting with patients about COVID-19 vaccines, pharmacists can also rely on their PrimeRx™ technology management system as an important tool. Applicable PrimeRx™ features include:
- Immediate access to patient records.
- Direct integration with VUCA Health digital information sheets to help patients better understand the purpose of their medications and anticipate any potential side effects.
- Outbound SMS/Texts and Emails. Sometimes all a patient needs is an extra nudge or gentle reminder about the importance of getting a vaccine, or a few easy steps to follow that makes the process as fast and easy as possible
- Seamless account management. Automatically update patient records to reflect interactions to address the patient’s vaccine hesitancy.
Educating patients about COVID-19 vaccines and helping them determine if it’s in their best interests to receive an immunization is yet another way in which pharmacists are serving on the front lines of the health emergency.