To encourage frontline staff to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, health systems are offering employees everything from gift cards, $500 bonuses, free breakfasts at Waffle House, raffle tickets, and even socially distant parties.
FDA has granted emergency use authorizations for two Covid-19 vaccines in the United States basedon existing evidence that shows they are safe and effective. Medical journals have published "extensive data" on the vaccines, FDA has publicly shared its data analyses, and "there have been no signs of widespread severe side effects" resulting from vaccination, the Associated Press reports.
And overall, although the federal government hasn't released any official data on how many of those who are eligible for vaccination have opted to do so, many medical facilities across the country have reported near-universal vaccine uptake among frontline staff, particularly at hospitals, AP reports.
However, anecdotal data from certain health care facilities—particularly nursing homes and long-term care facilities—suggests that at least some health care workers are hesitant about getting the vaccine. In fact, according to a CDC survey released before the vaccines received emergency use authorization, only about 60% of health care workers said they were willing to receive the vaccine.
"I don't think anyone wants to be a guinea pig," Stephen Noble, a 42-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon in Oregon, explained. Noble, who plans to wait until April or May to get the vaccine, added, "At the end of the day, as a man of science, I just want to see what the data show. And give me the full data."
According to AP, some locations are reporting that nearly 80% of staff are opting to hold off. For instance, at PruittHealth, which operates about 100 long-term care facilities in the South, fewer than 3 in 10 staff members eligible for the vaccine have opted to receive it. "It's far too low," PruittHealth CEO Neil Pruitt said. "It's alarmingly low."
Experts hypothesize that much of this hesitation stems from the widespread misinformation about vaccines, AP reports, as well as mixed messages from political leaders. "It's a race against social media," Martin Wright, head of the West Virginia Health Care Association, said.
Facilities unveil incentive programs, communication strategies
To reassure staff concerns about safety—and to boost overall vaccine uptake—health systems, medical facilities, and even state officials have unveiled a range of communication strategies and incentives, Modern Healthcare reports.
For instance, Lloyd Dean, CEO of CommonSpirit Health, received the vaccine on Dec. 29, 2020, after several weeks of it being available to only frontline staff. A spokesperson explained the decision, writing, "We think it's important for our hospital and system leaders to show that they're willing to receive the vaccine alongside their staff."
And at Ochsner Health, the chief academic, medical, and nursing leaders not only received the vaccine, but shared photographs of the process among staff to encourage staff. And Robert Hart, CMO at Ochsner, said interest in getting the vaccine has only increased as the rollout continues. "There was a group of our employees who were kind of taking this 'let me wait and see how that first run goes' (approach)," Hart said, "and now that people are getting their second shot, there is kind of this collective sigh of, 'Well OK, we can go ahead and do it.'"
Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Louisiana reported a similar turnaround, AP reports. "The biggest thing that helped us to gain confidence in our staff was watching other staff members get vaccinated, be OK, walk out of the room, you know, not grow a third ear, and so that really is like an avalanche," said CMO Catherine O'Neal. "The first few hundred that we had created another 300 that wanted the vaccine."
Other health systems are taking a different approach, Modern Healthcare reports. For instance, Mount Sinai Health System is not offering the vaccine to C-suite leaders unless they treat patients. "If a member of the C-suite never goes to a clinical area, they are not prioritized," Waleed Javaid, director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai, said.
Similarly, a Providence spokesperson said the system's CEO, Rod Hochman, plans to get the vaccine after more frontline workers have—but will be sure to inform staff as soon as he does. And at Baptist Health Louisville, leaders are unveiling a communication strategy to encourage nonmedical staff in particular, who appear to be more hesitant than medical staff, to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Trinity Health has hosted a series of town halls on the vaccines' safety and efficacy, which have been well attended, AP reports. In fact, since the vaccine became available, 40% of the system's employees have received the vaccine, and recent polling suggests 70% are willing to do so.
Trinity's C-suite leaders also publicized their plans to get the vaccine as early as this week, when they will be eligible, according to Modern Healthcare. "We wanted to focus first on our front-line caregivers," Daniel Roth, Trinity's CCO, said. But "[f]or our leadership team and for people like me, we have said, 'We'll get the vaccine when it's our turn and we are eager for that.'"
And still other health systems are adopting more direct incentive programs. For instance, Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom said his system opted to offer $500 bonus to workers who get vaccinated after system realized that employees may be hesitant.
He explained that while about half his staff, especially those on Covid-19 units, quickly got vaccinated, 10% to 15% remain very cautious and the remaining 40% are waiting to see how the first wave goes. "We are hoping this bonus program is a little bit of a nudge to move a little faster than they would have otherwise," Boom said.
Similarly, SavaSeniorCare is offering cash to 169 of its long-term care facilities to cover the cost of incentives, such as gift cards or socially distanced parties, to encourage vaccine uptake. And PruittHealth has partnered with Waffle House to buy breakfast for employees who are vaccinated, in addition to entering vaccinated employees into a "continuing raffle" for prizes, the Wall Street Journal.
And according to AP, states are also taking action. For instance, the governor of South Carolina is giving health care workers until Jan. 15 to get vaccinated, or risk being moved "to the back of the line."And in Georgia, state officials have permitted some vaccines to be given to other essential workers, such as firefighters and police, given the slow uptake among medical professionals. "There's vaccine available but it's literally sitting in freezers," said Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey. "That's unacceptable. We have lives to save" (Condon et al., Associated Press, 1/8; Castellucci, Modern Healthcare, 1/9; Mathews/Toy, Wall Street Journal, 12/20/20).