Man getting vaccine
Advice drawn from NAHC’s vaccine poll
by Tom Threlkeld

Whether their concerns are about the safety or efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, distrust of government and big health care organizations, or simply stems from views about personal freedom and autonomy, some home health workers have resisted taking the vaccines.

This matters not only because it is important for home health workers to be immunized and safe and able to continue working, but also because there is a correlation between a health care workers’ willingness to take a vaccine and his or her willingness to recommend it to patients. Delays in the vaccination of health care workers and their patients will delay the acquisition of herd immunity, resulting in more COVID-related illness and death. To prevent that from happening, it is important that home health workers get on board with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Some concern about new vaccines is understandable. Pregnant women fear it will impact their babies, for example. Others may hear the words “Operation Warp Speed” and worry the vaccine’s development was rushed and, therefore, it may not be safe.

Rumors and conspiracies have spread about potential dangers and false side effects related to the vaccine, particularly online and on social media, increasing hesitancy among many—including some home health workers.

Success in convincing these employees to take the vaccine will require communication and action.

Educate & Communicate

Unsurprisingly, education is critical. As one home health care executive told the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), “We over-communicated. We had a frequently asked questions document updated almost daily and it was shared with staff.” In addition, this company had vaccine recipients talk about their own vaccine experience, emphasizing that it was safe and not unpleasant.

Another home health provider had an all-staff Q&A session via Zoom to answer staff questions about the vaccine.

“We encouraged them to take advantage of the vaccine … We have been transparent with our staff throughout the pandemic. When we didn’t know the answers, we told them we didn’t know and did our best to find out,” they said. This approached worked and vaccine uptake increased sharply in the following days and weeks.

Successful Approaches

When NAHC asked our members for feedback on approaches that worked to convince home health workers to take the vaccine, we heard over and over that education was the most important factor, as well as an ability to communicate with their staffs. Creating webinars and seminars to explain everything known (and not known) about the virus went a long way toward convincing concerned employees to overcome their fears.

“We’ve had frequent town hall meetings, which allowed colleagues to hear directly from epidemiologists, our (chief medical officer) and several other health professionals,” one NAHC member told us in their response to the survey. “Allowing the opportunity to ask questions to confirm what they heard and debunk the myths has been helpful.”

“Having our medical providers record short videos explaining how the vaccine works and what they can expect after receiving the vaccine” has worked well, another NAHC member reported. “Q&A sessions with our medical director and director of infection control via Zoom for staff to ask questions, as well as weekly emails from the director of infection control that have a ‘COVID-19 Vaccine Fact of the Week’ were also effective.”

Other NAHC members had high-ranking members of the organization take the vaccine publicly to build confidence. Still others had “vaccine parties” where people were encouraged to receive the vaccine with prizes and gift cards. These tactics proved largely successful.

“One of the most effective strategies has been managers working directly with staff to get them scheduled, and answering staff questions individually,” says another NAHC member. “It communicates the importance of it.”

One homecare company reported that 95% of staff willingly took the vaccine. How?

“I did call all of the staff who originally were not signed up to take the vaccine,” this NAHC member said. “I did not ask why they did not want the vaccine, I just asked if they had any questions that I could assist to help them with their decision. The big thing was the leadership team all got the vaccine, and even those that had some slight side effects, we all came to work after the doses to show that we were able to function and set a good example.”

She went on to say that her company hosted vaccine clinics and made it extremely easy for the staff to receive the vaccine. Everyone who took the vaccine received a $200 bonus.

Finding the correct spokespeople is critical to communicating with staff. Simple commands from company leadership are unlikely to work and may very well increase suspicion, animosity and resistance to taking the vaccine. Some “influencers” may be helpful in this regard, but the most important advocates are likely the workers’ own peers and contemporaries. If there are people on staff who are not part of management but are highly respected among the workforce, they will be ideal influencers for the rest of the staff. Urging these influencers to take the vaccine and talk to their peers about their decision is likely to be an effective strategy.

Handling Objections

Take objections seriously. Do not belittle people for holding incorrect beliefs about the vaccine, and try not to lose patience with them. Address each objection individually, letting the person know that you take their concerns seriously, and then address those concerns. If you cannot do that immediately, set up a time soon thereafter to address those concerns with someone the objector is likely to regard as knowledgeable, relatable and trustworthy.

One-to-one conversations are highly effective and relationships are crucial. Monitoring social media is also recommended. Learn about the myths and conspiracies spreading online about COVID-19 and communicate the falsehood of these myths to staff. It is not recommended that leadership simply assume their staff is too wise to believe such conspiracies. It has become apparent that educated and sophisticated people can believe patently false conspiracy theories, so these malign falsehoods must be confronted and debunked. You may feel silly telling people that the COVID-19 vaccine will not alter their DNA, but it may be necessary to do so.

You can also use social media to your advantage. When an employee is vaccinated, encourage him or her to take photos and share their pictures and positive stories on their social media channels. Many NAHC members have employed this strategy and found success with it.

Finally, remind members of your workforce of their duty to their families, friends, neighbors and patients. Widespread adoption of the vaccine will make everyone safer, which is part of the duty of every health care worker. If workers cite religious objections, remember that many religious figures are strongly urging their followers to take the vaccine.

Again, compulsion is likely to be met with resistance and resentment. The best advice is to exhaust all options for encouraging health care workers to be vaccinated before considering other options.

Tom Threlkeld is director of communications for NAHC, a nonprofit organization that represents the nation’s 33,000 homecare and hospice organizations.