Portage pharmacist shares his vaccine experience

Pharmacist and Portage, MI, business owner Arun Tandon shares his medical expertise on vaccination and community health and reflects on his experiences as a vaccine provider during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A photo of pharmacist Arun Tandon standing in his store.

The Michigan Vaccine Project (MVP) works to provide people with trusted, evidence-based vaccination information so that everyone can make informed healthcare decisions for themselves. One of the ways MVP does this is through its podcast “An Ounce of Prevention” where healthcare professionals and everyday Michiganders gather to tell their vaccination stories.

The podcast recently featured Pharmacist and Portage, MI, business owner Arun Tandon. Arun has been serving his community as a pharmacist for the past 33 years and has owned Advanced Health Pharmacy for 12. During the interview, Arun shared his medical expertise on vaccination and community health and reflected on his experience as a vaccine provider during the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlights from the interview can be found below.

When it comes to vaccination, what concerns have you heard from your patients?

Most of our patients are pretty open to vaccinations, but what we have done is ask people, “Do you want a vaccine?” or “Are you fully vaccinated?” I think as a healthcare provider, the best thing you can do is listen to the patient. If you can listen to the patient with full intention of understanding where they are coming from, then you can have a conversation with that patient. Our community members come from different backgrounds. They have different understandings; they have different affiliations; they grew up differently; their information sources are diverse. So, we need to be understanding. I think all their concerns can only be resolved if we have an empathetic ear and understanding for their belief system.

As a medical professional, what can you tell us about vaccine safety and efficacy?

When this vaccine wasn't available, everybody was really concerned about what was going to happen and anxiously waiting for this vaccine to come. It couldn't have come any sooner. I want to share my personal story here. My cousin's sister and her husband, who was 56 years old, went to a family get together, and both husband and wife got COVID. Fourteen days later he was gone. I remember waking up at 2:00 AM and trying to talk to them because they were in India and talking to the physicians. Should we intubate or should we not intubate? This was such a tumultuous time that we felt helpless that we couldn't do anything. One month later we had the vaccine. Some people thought “how can anybody create a vaccine in 10 months?” There were big questions about it. The mRNA platform wasn't new; studies had been going on for almost 25 years, but the urgency wasn't there at that time. When I had my own personal questions, like how can a vaccine which takes so many years to come up and study [come out so fast]? Actually, it happens that one of my friends is a scientist working on the Moderna vaccine himself. So I had a heart to heart with him, and he explained that usually one lab is working on a vaccine at a time. But, [with COVID there were] 4,000 scientists working not only eight hours a day, but 16 hours a day, collaborating from across the world. The number of hours it took to develop the vaccine was still the same, [there were just more people working on it]. Now when we see that there have been over 12.2 billion vaccines given all over the world and we have seen the safety and efficacy of it, there is no doubt.

Why do you think vaccination is so important?

There are communicable, treatable diseases, like polio, leprosy, whooping cough, chicken pox. A lot of these diseases have been eradicated, and that has only happened not from treatment, but from prevention, and that prevention has come from vaccines. They say that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. I think that's actually a misnomer. I think one ounce is equal to probably 100 pounds of cure because once you have leprosy, once you have polio, once you have chicken pox or smallpox, which leaves indelible remarks on your physical and mental being, it can really, really stop your progression in life.

What can we do now to give people the information that will make them feel comfortable enough that they get vaccinated against not only childhood diseases, but also get the regular adult boosters and COVID vaccine?

Education is so important. Time and again, something comes up in the news which refutes hard science which can sway a large number of people to not look at the hard science but look at some anecdotal stories instead. That causes a lot of confusion in people. Pharmacists are highly educated medical personnel with access to the public, and we want to go out and help our community. So, I think giving them the resources and educating them [to educate the public would help]. Since we started getting these vaccines, we were able to vaccinate so many people. If they need the vaccine, if they need any more education, we can be there.

Is there anything you would like to speak to that we haven’t discussed already?

I think knowledge is power, and where the knowledge comes from matters. The trust between healthcare providers and the patients and the community at large is paramount. What we stand for here in this pharmacy is community first. What drives us is how we can make a difference in a patient's life. In the last 30 years, I've served four generations of families, from grandparents to parents to kids, and now their kids. That trust cannot be built overnight. It takes years of love and affection and compassion. We have to provide knowledge based on that compassionate care so that we can make a difference. We want to give our kids the best immunity possible so they can go out in this world and make a difference.

If you would like to learn more about vaccines, check out Michigan State University Extension’s partnership with the Michigan Vaccine Project to find links to event schedules, podcasts, publications, webinars, and videos relating to vaccine education at https://www.canr.msu.edu/vaccineeducation/.

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