As coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination rates continue to increase across the U.S. for the general population, it is important that health care workers remain engaged. Yet, studies are showing that some health care personnel are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
A study released in March by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post found that some health care personnel who had not or were not planning to get the vaccine based their decision on fears over potential side effects and the speed at which the vaccines were being produced.* The study, which included interviews with approximately 1,327 front-line health care workers in hospitals, office settings, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, and assisted care facilities also showed that approximately one in five of the group of health care staff who had not received the vaccine would “definitely not” receive one.*
Joint Commission responds to provider concerns
A recent Quality in Nursing Center Care blog post from The Joint Commission touched on the issue of health care personnel opting out of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. In it, trust issues also were identified as a reason why some health care personnel may be reticent to receive a vaccine.†
“In our own research study, home care workers responded that personal protective equipment (PPE) issues lingered much longer for their specialty because hospitals were prioritized,” wrote Gina Zimmermann, executive director, business development, Nursing Care Center Accreditation Services, The Joint Commission. “Staff who felt victimized by working in unknown conditions during the pandemic may be less eager to trust leaders who are now pushing them to get vaccinated.”
There has been an overwhelming response from physicians, nurses, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and other health care personnel volunteering to become vaccinators to distribute the vaccine to those who need it most.
The Joint Commission’s director of infection control and prevention, Sylvia Garcia-Houchins, MBA, RN, CIC, discussed the vaccines in a recent Take 5 with The Joint Commission podcast.‡ Ms. Garcia-Houchins, who has more than 30 years of experience in infection control in a variety of health care settings, detailed her own experience receiving one of the vaccines. She compared the side effects to that of the flu vaccine.‡
“This was very similar to that: Not feeling well after the vaccine, soreness of the injection site, feeling a little tired, a little chills,” she said.
But Ms. Garcia-Houchins also pointed out how safe the vaccines are for those who receive them.
Ms. Garcia-Houchins said the number of adverse reactions is “incredibly low, given the number of people who have gotten the vaccine over a very short period of time.” She said the biggest risk, which is rare, is anaphylaxis. From her own personal experience as someone with a history of allergies, Ms. Garcia-Houchins said she was not allowed to leave for 30 minutes after receiving her dose.
“And they make sure that whoever is administering the vaccine has the staff and the knowledge to be able to respond appropriately,” she said. “They’re really able to head off those situations that could lead to a bad outcome.”
Ultimately, Ms. Garcia-Houchins said the best reason to receive the vaccine is to mitigate the morbidity and mortality that can result from being infected with COVID-19.
“We need to get the vaccine, and we need to prevent serious disease. That’s the important part,” she said.
Health care personnel volunteer
There has been an overwhelming response from physicians, nurses, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and other health care personnel volunteering to become vaccinators to distribute the vaccine to those who need it most. In Connecticut, we have had surgeons, nurses, and other care staff volunteer at convention centers, stadiums, mobile sites, and other facilities to vaccinate the general public as soon as possible. The use of mobile vans is particularly important and a reason for optimism, as they can go directly into underserved areas and remote towns to provide vaccinations to people who may have limited access to care.
Given the national shortage of qualified vaccinators, one possible solution may be in using the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, which has trained more than 80,000 STOP THE BLEED® instructors. These instructors will be able to augment the vaccinator ranks.
However, potential volunteer vaccinators should know that states have specific requirements for who may administer vaccinations. So, they should check with their state’s public health department to obtain the information needed to volunteer.
Make no mistake: COVID-19 remains an ongoing challenge. But with more and more health care professionals lining up to be part of the solution by volunteering to deliver more vaccines to the public, we can meet this challenge head-on.
The thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Dr. Jacobs and do not necessarily reflect those of The Joint Commission or the American College of Surgeons.
*Wan W, Stead Sellers F, Ahmed N, Guskin E. More than 4 in 10 health-care workers have not been vaccinated, Post-KFF poll finds. Washington Post. March 19, 2021. Available at: www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/03/19/health-workers-covid-vaccine/. Accessed May 4, 2021.
†Zimmermann G. Vaccine hesitation among senior living and home care workers. April 9, 2021. Available at: www.jointcommission.org/resources/news-and-multimedia/blogs/quality-in-nursing-center-care/2021/vaccine-hesitation-among-senior-living-and-home-care-workers/. Accessed May 4, 2021.
‡The Joint Commission. Take 5: COVID-19 vaccines and your health. Available at: www.jointcommission.org/resources/news-and-multimedia/podcasts/take-5-covid-19-vaccines-and-your-health/. Accessed May 4, 2021.