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Pharmacists at the Forefront of Efforts to Improve COVID-19 Vaccination Rates

In an early July press briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases revealed the startling fact that more than nine out of ten Americans who died from COVID-19 during the previous month were unvaccinated.

"Millions of Americans are still unvaccinated and unprotected," Fauci said in remarks reported by The Hill. "And because of that, their communities are at risk, their friends are at risk, the people they care about are at risk."

Fauci's remarks came at a time when data from the Centers for Disease Control indicated roughly 67 percent of adult Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 59 percent are fully vaccinated. However, the rate of vaccinations has dropped precipitously in recent weeks, raising concern about a potential surge in the virus among unvaccinated people, as the highly transmissible delta variant spreads at remarkable speed.

"The emergence of the delta variant is going to mean for those areas with low rates of vaccination that they're very much at risk of significant increases in transmissions with potentially even exponential growth," Dr. David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia told National Public Radio.

But reaching the millions of Americans who have yet to obtain a vaccination, and helping to allay their concerns and facilitate access, is often easier said than done.

Not surprisingly, America's community pharmacists have stepped up. The same pharmacists who have served on the front lines since the earliest days of the pandemic are now fully engaged in vaccination efforts, including the growing need to reach elderly and infirm patients along with non-English speakers, and patients with concerns and questions about vaccine safety or efficacy.

As only pharmacists can, many have taken somewhat innovative approaches to their outreach efforts, essentially taking the vaccine to patients, wherever they are located. A few examples include:

WBNS-10 in Columbus, Ohio reported on Dr. Emlah Tubuo, owner of Powell Pharmacy, who launched an initiative called "Sleeves up for Summer" as a way to educate as many people as possible about the importance of the vaccine. Dr. Tubuo's goal was to reach as many people as possible and provide the research statistics to help concerned patients "make a comfortable and informed decision." Dr. Tubuo's summer education initiative is in addition to the community outreach she has already implemented, which includes regular visits to homeless shelters and community centers to set up community clinics.

 — Adam and Traci Bayer, owners of Hillcrest Pharmacy in Vernon, Texas told the Associated Press they started reaching out proactively to patients to let them know vaccines are available. "We're calling patients who we know aren't online," Adam Bayer said. "My prayer is that we're not leaving people behind."

— Oregon State University third-year pharmacy student Daniela Olivas Shaw produced two education videos for use by Oregon pharmacists in helping to educate Spanish-speaking patients about approved vaccines. According to an OSU media report, as a native Spanish speaker, Olivas Shaw noticed that much of the medical terminology she encountered while on the job at her pharmacy internship was confusing. So, she set out to make the complex language more user friendly. "The video for providers helps them navigate caring for folks who often get lumped together as 'Hispanic' but have many different customs that need to be recognized and respected," Olivas Shaw explained. "The second video is targeted at folks who are on the fence about getting vaccinated or waiting to be vaccinated. It has information about the different vaccines, expectations for their appointment, possible adverse effects, and receipt of their vaccination card, along with answers to frequently asked questions."

Hats off to each of these individuals for a job well done. And to the thousands of other pharmacists across the nations, whose stories may not have been included here, but who work tirelessly to educate their patients, and help allay vaccine-related fears as they work to bring an end to this terrible pandemic.

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