How your pharmacy can help reduce vaccine hesitancy

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Strategies to reduce vaccine hesitancy in your community

In brief:

  • Since vaccines for COVID-19 have been developed and are being manufactured and distributed, the most significant challenge to overcome is “vaccine hesitancy”
  • Roughly 40% of patients are reluctant to get vaccinated, with greater hesitancy among groups such as Black individuals
  • Several strategies can help reduce vaccine hesitancy . . . and your pharmacy can play a key role

3 key challenges with the COVID-19 vaccine

Once the COVID-19 pandemic began, health experts agreed that a vaccine would play a key part in ending it. To get a majority of the population vaccinated, experts saw three main challenges:

  1. Developing a vaccine, testing it and getting regulatory approval. This occurred in record time, with approved vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, and others in progress.
  2. Manufacturing and distributing vaccines to make them broadly available. After some initial bumps in the road, this is proceeding and accelerating.
  3. Getting people vaccinated, which requires overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

This first challenge is scientific, the second is logistical but the third is cultural and behavioral, which might be the most difficult challenge.

Multiple studies show that about 40% of US adults are hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine.¹

  • Only about 60% of Americans will definitely or probably get a vaccine.
  • Of the other 40%, about half are “pretty certain” more information will not change their mind, but the other half might change their mind.
  • Hesitancy varies greatly by gender, race, age, location and education and income level.
  • Women are more hesitant than men
  • Black individuals are more hesitant than white individuals
  • Younger people are more hesitant than older people
  • People in rural areas are more hesitant than those in urban areas
  • People with less education and income are more hesitant than people with more
  • Republicans are more hesitant than Democrats

Among the reasons for vaccine hesitancy are:

  • Distrust by some of scientific authorities, pharmaceutical companies and the media.
  • Deep distrust among the Black community due to historical experimentation among Blacks by the medical community.²
  • Concerns about side effects, which is cited by 71% of individuals.³

Strategies for overcoming vaccine hesitancy

A host of experts have weighed in with ideas for overcoming vaccine hesitancy. Among them are:4

It is important for healthcare leaders—including community pharmacists—to understand each group’s concerns and tailor communications while reiterating key facts, which include:

  • Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine are 95% effective.5
  • These vaccines have been tested and given to millions of people and are safe.6
  • Many patients experience side effects, but they are minor and resolve quickly.

The CDC has good online resources which include: Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19 Vaccination, Myths & Facts and COVID-19 Information for Specific Groups.

What your pharmacy can do

While national efforts are under way to educate the public, your pharmacy can play a key role in addressing vaccine hesitancy locally. Strategies include:

  • Leverage local trust. The Edelman Trust Barometer7 has found that trust in national institutions is lacking, while local trust is much higher. People trust local businesses, institutions and their own employer—where they have personal relationships. Pharmacies can leverage this local trust by working in collaboration with local government, religious leaders and businesses on communications about getting vaccinated.
  • Show don’t tell. Publicize photos that show you, your team and other trusted members of your community getting vaccinated. This can include doctors and nurses, first responders, clergy, government leaders, business leaders, teachers and other members of the community. Post these photos on your website and social media. When people see others in their community getting vaccinated, it decreases hesitancy.
  • Engage in targeted outreach. Todd’s Discount Drugs in Adamsville, Tennessee, called high-risk patients to register them for shots. When patients are contacted by a trusted source, they will be more comfortable getting a shot.
  • Proactively schedule appointments. An effective way for pharmacies to boost vaccinations is to simply schedule an appointment for a patient and inform them of the time/date/location. This approach increased flu shots by 36%.8

It won’t be possible to completely overcome vaccine hesitancy. But by understanding people’s concerns, providing factual information, tailoring your communication and using a variety of creative strategies, you can decrease vaccine hesitancy in your community. The result will be that more people become vaccinated, fewer become infected and your community will be safer and healthier. In combination, these strategies can be powerful way forward.


[1] “Intent to Get a COVID-19 Vaccine Rises to 60% as Confidence in Research and Development Process Increase,” Cary Funk and Alec Tyson, Pew Research Center, December 3, 2020.
[2] “A Third of Americans Might Refuse a Covid-19 Vaccine. How Screwed Are We?” Brian Resnick, Vox, September 3, 2020.
[3] “Welltok Stresses Importance of Personalized COVID-19 Vaccine Outreach in New Survey Report” Welltok, January 19, 2021.
[4] “How to Persuade Someone to Take the COVID-19 Vaccine,” Alia E. Dastagir, USA Today, December 24, 2020.
[5] “COVID-19 Vaccine – Frequently Asked Questions,” Paul E. Sax, New England Journal of Medicine.
[6] Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines, CDC.
[7] Edelman Trust Barometer 2021, Global Report, January 2021.
[8] “5 Behavioral Science Hacks to Convince the Unwilling to Get Vaccinated,” Kristen Berman et al., Fast Company, December 22, 2020.