“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 several weeks has been butting heads with customers and COVID-19 vaccine-resistant users on the Rolesville Community Facebook page.
The rhetoric has been hot, sometimes harsh, with Chaudhury giving as much as he’s getting.
“The idea behind engaging on Facebook is just about getting the word out. Not just, ‘hey we’re doing vaccines,’ but getting the word out with the scientific information.”
In one post he writes, “The storm is brewing and unvaccinated people are likely to pay a heavy toll.” In another he says, “It’s “foolishly selfish to let the virus use your body as a host and indirectly kill hundreds of your own kind.”
When anti-vaccine users pushed back, the pharmacy responded, “Conspiracy theorists are not welcome at Youngsville pharmacy.” Chaudhury told one customer they were banned from the store because they were anti-vaccine.
“We are in a business of promoting science and vaccines to these people,” he said. “So when we see people going out there and spreading false information — of course they’re not welcome!”
We’re talking to the local pharmacist going to toe-to-toe with vaccine-resistant customers on social media. Umesh Chaudhury says he’s simply promoting science. Some critics say his confrontational approach is unprofessional and may be doing more harm than good. AT 11 • #abc11 pic.twitter.com/ucEuRlEZ8B
— Joel Brown (@JoelBrownABC11) May 28, 2021
But since the start of the pandemic, public health experts have been telling ABC 11 that when we dismiss people’s concerns, no matter how wrong they are – they can take it personally and reject what you’re saying. They said the best practice in these difficult conversations over vaccines is earning someone’s trust by showing you care about their concerns.
ABC 11 asked Chaudhury if he was fearful that being combative or confrontational could defeat his purpose or turn more people off to his message than attract them to it.
“This was a conscious decision,” he said. “The way we have been operating has hurt our business tremendously. But we are proud! I would rather take a pay cut. I would rather take less money and keep our people protected.”
One local Facebook user telling ABC 11 that they’ve reported Chaudhury to the state pharmacy board. The person, who asked to remain anonymous, believes Chaudhury crossed the line for a public health worker by telling people they’re not welcome to come for other medicines.
Outside Youngsville Pharmacy Thursday evening, Laura Mahn was getting her second dose of the COVID shot. She’s backing her pharmacist.
“First of all, I can’t believe people would give him backlash,” Mahn said. “And I think he’s right in doing what he’s doing. He just trying to keep his customers healthy.”
Two doses of the vaccine; with a big shot of drama over the conversation.
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