How Pharmacists Can Relieve Vaccine Fears

February 8, 2015
Eileen Oldfield Associate Editor

Downplaying the gravity of measles is common among those who grew up in a measles-free world due to the success of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. However, a portion of that success relies on continued vaccination.

Downplaying the gravity of measles is common among those who grew up in a measles-free world due to the success of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. However, a portion of that success relies on continued vaccination.

“While many diseases have been severely diminished or ‘eradicated’ with vaccines, the present outbreak describes the vigilance still required to keep these disease at bay,” David T. Bearden, PharmD, Chairman of the Department of Pharmacy Practice at Oregon State University, told Pharmacy Times in an exclusive interview. “Pharmacists should use their knowledge of vaccines to encourage their use, and help patients understand the benefits and limited risks. Taking the time to educate patients and families and provide evidence to support the benefits is a vital service.”

Thinking that the measles virus equates to a bad cold and rash, patients may seek out OTC remedies for classic cough, coryza, and conjunctivitis symptoms. However, Jason Gallagher, PharmD, FCCP, a clinical pharmacy specialist in infectious diseases at Temple University, told Pharmacy Times that no particular OTC remedies are effective against measles symptoms. In immunocompromised patients, where the virus poses the most danger, the classic rash may not develop after an infection, Dr. Gallagher said.

Patients who may have measles should be referred to a physician immediately, and public health officials should be notified due to the extremely contagious nature of the virus.

“Pharmacists need to educate patients about the safety and effectiveness of measles vaccination,” Dr. Gallagher told Pharmacy Times. “It’s the only weapon we have to prevent measles, and it’s an excellent one.”

However, approaching those who have a sincere and deep-rooted fear of vaccination presents a challenge for pharmacists. Offering vaccine safety data or disparaging vaccination fears often does not convince such patients to change their position.

“Pharmacists with close relationships with patients are in a key position to educate them on the safety of vaccines,” Dr. Gallagher said. “I think it is best for these pharmacists to ask what the parental concerns are…not be the one giving a lecture, but be the listener instead.”

During counseling, pharmacists should incorporate facts about vaccine safety, as well as explain what it is.

“Parents concerned about the numbers of vaccines given can learn that the immune systems of their children fight many more living bacteria, viruses, and fungi simultaneously every day than the relatively small challenge that a vaccine provides,” Dr. Gallagher said. “Patients who state, ‘vaccines do have risks,’ should be told that they are right, and then the pharmacist can quantify the degree of risk compared to something less feared but more common, like traffic accidents or bleeds from aspirin use.”

Counseling a reluctant or fearful patient relies on the pharmacist’s relationship with that patient and compassion for his or her concerns, Dr. Bearden told Pharmacy Times.

“I would recommend asking honestly about patient concerns, and expressing your interest in trying to understand them,” Dr. Bearden said. “Using a safe and established relationship can be helpful in making patients comfortable to explain their concerns.”

Patients may not change their views on vaccines immediately, but repeated positive interactions may help sway their opinions.

“Not all patients will be easily moved from their current stance, but taking time to understand and educate can be helpful, even if change occurs over time,” Dr. Bearden said. “As a tactic, I think calling on your extensive training in medications and medication safety and your review of the topics is important. I would stress that your professional opinion, based on the available evidence, is that these vaccines are safe and effective. I would also invoke your concern for patient safety as a high priority, and that your recommendation is rooted in the idea of safety and a positive impact on patients and the community.”