As healthcare organizations figure out how to efficiently deliver the COVID-19 vaccine, countering vaccine hesitancy is also top of mind.
The Kaiser Family Foundation COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, a series of national surveys about COVID-19 vaccine attitudes and uptake, showed that patients’ most commonly cited reasons for their reluctance were concerns about safety, lack of trust in the government’s ability to make a safe and effective vaccine, the vaccines’ newness, and the speed at which the vaccines were developed. Individuals’ feelings that they do not know enough about side effects, effectiveness, or how, when, and where the vaccine will be available also adds to their skepticism.
And while the share of people eager to be vaccinated has grown over the past few months, 31% of Americans are still planning to wait and see how things go with the vaccine before they roll up their own sleeves. People aged 18-29 and Black adults are the mostly likely to want to delay the vaccine, with 43% of both groups saying they want to see how others fare with vaccination before getting it themselves.
Hesitancy to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is a major hurdle in ending the pandemic, and it is something that healthcare providers everywhere can address. Time and again, people report that the person they trust the most when it comes to health information, including the COVID-19 vaccine, is their own healthcare provider. This means that every healthcare provider can build vaccine confidence with each and every patient.
What is vaccine hesitancy?
Vaccine hesitancy is the delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines even when they are available. Vaccine hesitancy is informed by individuals’ and communities’ social needs and histories, ease of access and sense of urgency, and confidence in vaccines’ safety and effectiveness.
Concern about vaccines is not new. But apprehension about the COVID-19 vaccine is different from hesitancy about more established vaccines like the ones for measles and HPV. Anxieties about the COVID-19 vaccine are often rooted in questions about the science behind these specific vaccines’ ability to confer immunity via mRNA and the process behind the vaccines’ development and approval.
Patients trust their healthcare providers. Fortunately, there are multiple opportunities to assess and address patients’ concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine—and providers need tools to support their efforts. Here are five strategies for combating vaccine hesitancy among your patients
1. Screen for vaccine hesitancy during routine appointments
Rather than waiting until your vaccine shipment arrives, start pre-screening patients now during intake for routine in-person or telehealth visits. This gives providers insight into where each patient stands and gives you the information you need to proactively talk with them about their COVID-19 vaccine concerns. Asking questions like “When a COVID-19 vaccine is available to you, how likely are you to get vaccinated?” and “When you think about the COVID-19 vaccine, what are your top concerns” can help you drill down into what’s really worrying your patients.
Pre-screening for hesitancy during routine appointments, whether or not you have the vaccine available for distribution, gives providers a chance to provide education in a low-stakes moment when patients may be more receptive to a conversation. Then, when they become eligible to be vaccinated, they already have some of the support they need.
2. Use motivational interviewing to engage vaccine-hesitant patients
Motivational interviewing has become a key strategy that healthcare providers use to counter vaccine hesitancy about routine pediatric vaccines, and, increasingly, concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine. This conversational method uses reflective listening, asking open-ended questions, and discussing the pros and cons of making a change. This process can uncover people’s intrinsic motivations to make health-promoting decisions and actions. Taking just a few minutes in a routine or vaccination appointment to use motivational interviewing techniques can make a lasting impact on patient’s intentions to receive the first dose or their dedication to returning for dose two.
If you prescreen for hesitancy, you can use patients’ responses to survey questions as a basis for your conversation. For example, many patients are motivated to get the vaccine but want to hear their doctor recommends the COVID-19 vaccine as safe. Others are less motivated because they don’t perceive themselves at risk. Yet others may have long held mistrust of vaccines in general. Tailoring education and conversations to the individual is key to countering vaccine hesitancy.
3. Deliver tailored education based on individuals’ vaccine concerns
Not all patients have the same COVID-19 vaccine questions. This means that you need to be nimble with your messaging and know which patient needs to hear which information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created toolkits for health systems, clinicians, pharmacists, long-term care leadership, essential businesses, community-based organizations and other groups to provide evidence-based education to their staff, patients and clients. Providers may benefit from the American Medical Association’s resources about common COVID-19 vaccine questions, including talking points for engaging with patients and webinars about vaccine development and safety. And vaccine research and advocacy experts like CONVINCE USA are creating specialized messaging specifically for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Technology that allows organizations to automate part of the messaging can take some of the burden off providers, freeing up their time to have more in-depth conversations with patients.
4. Build trust by showcasing patients and community members who have been vaccinated
Seeing family members, friends, neighbors, faith leaders, and other people they know and respect getting vaccinated can be the push some individuals need. In addition to joining local vaccine advocacy partnerships that can provided targeted outreach to specific groups, your organization can proactively share stories and testimonials from the people your organization has vaccinated.
Short videos can give hesitant individuals a chance to see and hear why their peers and providers are already in line. Memorial Health System in Ohio highlighted their first day vaccinating people aged 80+, asking people as they waited in their cars why they were getting vaccinated and compiling the clips into a video shared via social media. Delaware Valley Community Health, a network of federally qualified health centers in the Philadelphia area, created a triumphant video montage of their first day vaccinating staff and community partners.
5. Learn how other healthcare organizations are countering vaccine hesitancy
To hear how federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and other primary care providers are successfully distributing the COVID-19 vaccine and countering vaccine hesitancy, join us on Wednesday, February 17 for a webinar featuring FQHC leaders.
Learn more about Phreesia’s Vaccine Management Solution, which seamlessly integrates vaccine hesitancy screening, patient education, waitlist management and appointment scheduling, allowing you to address vaccine hesitancy at scale.