“We have received phone calls. We have received death threats over the phone,” said Umesh Chaudhury, co-owner and pharmacy manager at Youngsville Pharmacy on Main Street.
He is also the voice of the store’s Facebook account – which over the past few weeks has clashed with COVID-19 vaccine-resistant customers and users on the Rolesville community Facebook page.
The rhetoric has been hot, sometimes harsh, Chaudhury giving as much as he gets.
“The idea behind engaging on Facebook is just to get the word out. Not just, ‘hey, we’re making vaccines’, but to get the word out with science.”
In one article, he wrote: “The storm is brewing and unvaccinated people are likely to pay a heavy price.” In another, he says: “It’s’ foolishly selfish to let the virus use your body as a host and indirectly kill hundreds of your kind.”
When anti-vaccine users pushed back, the pharmacy responded, “Conspiracy theorists are not welcome at Youngsville Pharmacy.” Chaudhury told a customer he was banned from the store for being anti-vaccine.
“We are in a business of promoting science and vaccines to these people,” he said. “So when we see people going out and spreading false information – of course they’re not welcome!”
We talk to the local pharmacist who goes to deal with vaccine resistant customers on social media. Umesh Chaudhury says he’s just promoting science. Some critics say his confrontational approach is unprofessional and may do more harm than good. AT 11 O’CLOCK • # abc11 pic.twitter.com/ucEuRlEZ8B
– Joel Brown (@ JoelBrownABC11) May 28, 2021
But since the start of the pandemic, public health experts have told ABC 11 that when we dismiss people’s concerns, no matter how wrong they are, they can take it personally and dismiss what you say. They said the best practice in these tough vaccine conversations is to gain someone’s trust by showing that you care about their concerns.
ABC 11 asked Chaudhury if he was concerned that being combative or confrontational might defeat his goal or turn more people away from his message than draw them to him.
“It was a conscious decision,” he said. “The way we operate has done a lot of damage to our business. But we are proud! I would rather take a pay cut. I would rather take less money and protect our employees.”
A local Facebook user told ABC 11 that he reported Chaudhury to the state pharmacy board. The person, who asked to remain anonymous, believes Chaudhury crossed the finish line for a public health worker by telling people they are not welcome for other drugs.
In front of the Youngsville pharmacy Thursday night, Laura Mahn was receiving her second dose of the COVID vaccine. She supports her pharmacist.
“First of all, I can’t believe people would give it a backlash,” Mahn said. “And I think he’s right to do what he’s doing. He’s just trying to keep his clients healthy.”
Two doses of the vaccine; with a great deal of drama during the conversation.
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