'Why I'm Getting Vaccinated:' A Pharmacist Whose 'Positive, Hopeful' Manner Changed a Hesitant Patient's Mind

PEOPLE's "Why I'm Getting Vaccinated" campaign hopes to fight vaccine misinformation and encourage people to get the shot as part of the battle against COVID-19. Noteworthy names and everyday people alike will share their powerful, personal reasons for getting vaccinated.

Vaccine or flu shot in injection needle. Doctor working with patient's arm. Physician or nurse giving vaccination and immunity to virus, influenza or HPV with syringe.
Patient receiving a vaccination. Photo: Getty

With COVID-19 cases still on the rise in the United States, the rush is on to get as much of the population vaccinated as possible. But the vaccine rollout has hit speed bumps due to rocky distribution, difficult-to-navigate appointment websites and vaccine hesitancy within the first groups to be eligible.

Marjan Pekyar, a physical therapist at a rehabilitation center and nursing home in Great Neck, N.Y., was one of the first people eligible to receive the vaccination, but she declined to get it when it was offered by her employer. "I felt that it was too new and I was worried about the possible long term effects," she said.

Still, the rising cases of COVID-19, paired with her close contact to a highly vulnerable population (and even having some of her patients die of COVID-19) made her rethink her position. Though still apprehensive, she went to the Walgreens vaccine clinic, where she met Helen Maser, a pharmacist for 35 years, who was happy to talk her through it. This is their story, as told to PEOPLE.

Maser: "[Marjan] walked over to me and told me she still wasn't sure about getting the vaccine. I patted the chair next to me and told her to tell me what she was thinking and what she was still concerned about. I think it's so important for people to protect themselves from anything that can interfere with their daily lives, health, and overall well-being."

Pekyar: "Initially I was very much anti- [getting the vaccine] because it was so new. When my job gave us the opportunity to sign up to get the first dose, I declined at first. I was really skeptical at how quickly they came up with it. I was worried about long term effects, and how there are no long term studies yet. Even though I was nervous, I decided to go ahead to the Walgreens Clinic for my first dose because seeing the cases rise made me even more scared. Helen was amazing though. I'm so thankful for people like her."

Maser: "I think it's really important to share my experience with the patients that I vaccinate. If I can share my experience with them, it helps to alleviate their fears and concerns about the COVID vaccination because I can tell them what I personally experienced. And then the individual can make a really good choice for themselves to protect themselves.

There's so much misinformation about many vaccines out there on the internet. I just want to implore people that you have to go to reliable sites to get your information; a couple great sites to visit are the Immunization Action Coalition, and also the CDC website where you can get some fantastic information. But you can also talk to immunization specialists like myself once you arrive at a clinic if you're still unsure; we're happy to answer any question."

Pekyar: "Helen was awesome. She was so calming and very comforting. She also answered all of my questions (like whether or not there was an active virus in the vaccine and if I'd get sick) and really took the time with me to calm my nerves.

I was nervous, but ready to get back to my 'normal' life, and Helen spoke with me about how our best chance at getting back to normal and out of this pandemic was to get vaccinated. It made me think of my children and the residents I work with. If this was a way for me to keep them safe as well then it's worth it. I also thought there was live virus in this vaccine, but she reassured me that there isn't."

Pharmacist Helen Maser: Why I'm Getting Vaccinated
Pharmacist Helen Maser at work. Courtesy Helen Maser

Maser: "This vaccine is so important for the country as a whole. I just want to make people as educated and comfortable as possible.

So many health care workers and front line workers haven't been able to see their families because they want to keep them safe. I haven't been able to see my own mother. Getting vaccinated gives us all the opportunity to be able to interact with family and loved ones again."

Pekyar: "A lot of people are suffering. It'll be nice for businesses to be able to open, to be able to travel, and for life to get back to 'normal' as much as possible. Hopefully getting vaccinated can really help us move past this pandemic.

For those who are still apprehensive, I encourage you to do lots of research. There are so many resources and so many medical professionals who can give you all of the information and answer any of your questions. It's important to consider all of that information and then make the best decision for yourself and your family. Do your homework, read up about it, find out as much as you can. Make an informed decision for yourself that's not based just in fear."

Maser: "My clients can ask me anything, and I know other health professionals are happy to answer any questions. We understand that this vaccine is new and there is fear but it is my pleasure to comfort people who are fearful and provide clarity on the process."

Pekyar: "Helen had a very positive, hopeful view of the future during this pandemic. It confirmed for me that this was a step I could take to help us all get out of this pandemic and back to our lives as normally as possible."

Maser: "It's been my pleasure for me to work with patients like Marjan to help us take the steps towards eradicating this virus and getting us back to our lives."

Read more stories of people's powerful, personal reasons for getting vaccinated, in PEOPLE's Why I'm Getting Vaccinated series.

Before being released to the public, vaccine-makers went through large, lengthy clinical trials to ensure that their product is completely safe. On Sept. 8, nine of the leading vaccine makers — including Pfizer and Moderna — signed a pledge vowing to follow "high ethical standards" and not rush a vaccine into production before it is proven to work.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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