When a colleague in health care mentioned hesitation to get the COVID-19 vaccine in two separate instances, I was shocked and dismayed.
If we recommend vaccination to our patients, how can we not take the same precautions for ourselves?
With COVID-19 especially, anyone working in health care is exposed to many people and should be especially motivated to get vaccinated.
As cut-and-dry as this issue seems to me, I do remember similar issues with encouraging the flu vaccine and even mammograms among health care workers. We need to remember what worked in those instances and use the same tactics to improve vaccination rates among our colleagues.
I’d like to offer the following recommendations:
1. Establish a qualitative study on why some clinicians are not getting vaccinated. There have been various theories on which groups are vaccine-hesitant or are “waiting and seeing.” Some say it’s minorities; others say it’s Republicans, rural Americans, men, etc.
Only a qualitative study will offer a real understanding of why people—even health care providers—are resisting vaccination. Only then can we create meaningful vaccine campaigns that respond to their concerns.
2. Offer educational modules. Many health care workers are incredibly busy during the course of a workday with so much required reading that they do little reading outside of work. In fact, the colleague of mine who told me he wasn’t getting the vaccine just didn’t have time to read any recent news about the approval of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Organizations that create meaningful educational content for their employees about the advantages of the vaccine, meaning of emergency use authorization, and importance of herd immunity will be offering a great service to their employees who may simply be starved for time.
3. Encourage friendly competition. There’s nothing like a little corporate competition to start getting those staff vaccination rates up. Track different department’s dose 1 and dose 2 rates and publicize the results. Offer an incentive to the first team to reach 100 percent staff vaccination.
There could also be benefits to simple “I’ve been vaccinated” stickers or buttons for staff. This wouldn’t outright embarrass the individual who opted not to get vaccinated but might be just the right kind of peer pressure.
4. Emphasize more lenient masking requirements for vaccinated employees. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has loosened its guidance for fully vaccinated people in most settings, except airports, public transportation, and hospitals.
It’s too early to know what this means for those working in medical settings outside hospitals. However, we all know from many years of experience with boosting staff flu vaccination rates that nobody wants to be the last person on the clinical team who has to wear a mask all day, as colleagues breathe and speak freely because they’ve been vaccinated.
I’ve taken this one step farther during flu season when one nurse wouldn’t get vaccinated because of her holistic convictions. The staff was required to show proof of vaccination or had to wear a mask. This particular nurse was really an outstanding employee, so I didn’t want to humiliate her or challenge her beliefs. I did make it a point to check in on her mask use daily and write her up when I saw her without a mask. She eventually gave in and got her vaccine like the rest of the staff.
This is such an important moment in our history, and we just need this vaccine in every possible arm to get as close as we can to herd immunity. It would be a real tragedy for the health care community not to take a leadership role in getting this country vaccinated. Remember, the recommendations we make to patients are always evidence-based. Let’s follow the evidence and not be disbelievers ourselves!
Dava Gerald is a physician surveyor, The Joint Commission.
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