How Richmond pharmacy owner plans to allay COVID-19 vaccine 'skepticism'

Doctor: 'I'm African-American, I'm Black. So I can address those concerns...'
Posted at 7:26 PM, Jan 10, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. -- Greeting customers with a smile underneath her mask and helping people get the food they need has been Shaaron Atkins-Comfort's mission throughout the pandemic.

"We love all our customers and we want our customers to be safe," said Atkins-Comfort.

The assistant manager of The Market at 25th says it hasn't been easy working in a grocery store. With the sheer amount of people she and other employees come into contact with every day, fears of contracting the coronavirus weigh heavy.

"I mean, being essential workers, you know a lot of customers come in and out and we can't ask them if they have it or deny them," Atkins-Comfort explained.

However, relief is on the way. Dr. Laurie Forlano, with the Virginia Department of Health, says grocery store workers will be included in the next group of people in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.

"The things we look at are, what is the risk to someone," Dr. Forlano said. "Can they do their job from home? In most cases, the workers we've listed, the answer is no."

Like many, Atkins-Comfort is on the fence about the vaccine.

"I am 50-50 to be honest. I'm just not sure," she said.

Store leadership at the Market at 25th is working with their in-house pharmacy to build trust among staff.

Owner of Hope Pharmacy, Dr. Shantelle Brown, said Black people are hesitant and have a right to be.

"There's some skepticism about things that they've experienced before. Tuskegee, for instance," said Dr. Brown.

To relieve apprehension, she's going to document her whole vaccination experience.

"I'm African-American, I'm Black. So I can address those concerns and say, 'Hey, I know her. She looks like me. She had the vaccine. Let me go talk to her about it,'" Dr. Brown explained.

She says she is an advocate for the vaccine, and other health experts reassure the vaccine is safe.

While employees at The Market at 25th decide if the vaccine is right for them, providing their neighbors with essentials remains top priority.

"To have nothing like COVID-19 or the pandemic stop us from doing what we came here to do has been amazing," said Atkins-Comfort. "Every day I leave with a smile on my face."

Dr. Brown wants to emphasize that when the vaccine is more widely available, it will be Hope Pharmacy so those in the East End don't have to travel far.

The next phase of vaccinations will begin Monday for some parts of our state, but that does not include health districts in Central Virginia.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.