young adult male getting vaccination
HealthJuly 08, 2021

COVID-19: Overcoming vaccine hesitancy in patients

By: Eve Gaus

To achieve regional and national goals for number of people vaccinated against COVID-19, healthcare providers need to combat vaccine hesitancy by addressing biases, answering questions, and presenting clear, easy-to-understand information about the vaccines.

The primary goal of any immunization effort is to protect communities from life-threatening diseases. One of the largest impediments to achieving that is a reluctance to get vaccinated.

Vaccine hesitancy stems from a number of reasons – institutional racism, historical medical mistreatment, the spread of misinformation and myths. Healthcare providers and institutions have an important role to play in addressing these fears and apprehensions by approaching patients with understanding and clarity. Keep these simple tips in mind.

Present clear information about COVID vaccines

Surveys from the Kaiser Family Foundation reveal that for many unsure if they will get the COVID-19 vaccine, their number one priority is more data. Preparing patients thus means delivering clear and easy-to-understand information.

In Emmi® content, we break down the complexity of the vaccines into small, bite-sized pieces in plain language and at a fourth-grade reading level. It’s one of the many design considerations we take to make the information inclusive and digestible.

The order in which you present the information is just as important. For example, we chose to lead with the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine will not give you the disease. If there were to be a key takeaway, we felt this was the one.

From there, we answer common questions about vaccine safety and efficacy, such as:

  • What are clinical trials?
  • Who was involved in those trials?
  • What are antibodies?
  • What about side effects?
  • What is herd immunity?

Clearly answering these types of questions can help cut through the noise of mass media and ease your patient’s mind about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. 

Check in with patients after vaccination

An open line of dialog after the patient receives the vaccine will prove to be vital should they experience serious side effects. It can help ease concerns over symptoms and navigating their road to recover.  But it can be important even if they don’t. Checking in with patients a few days and then a few weeks after will help maintain a sense of trust in the medical process and set expectations about how to protect themselves and others after being vaccinated.

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Vaccine hesitancy and race: Understand where patients are coming from

The experience people have with healthcare professionals and the history shared by their community shape their decision making. Feeling seen and heard makes everyone more receptive to information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

A lot has come out about difficulty to access vaccines being another significant driver for why people aren’t getting vaccinated.

For instance, one reason for vaccine hesitancy within communities of color is structural racism that has permeated our medical system. There is a deep cultural memory of the Tuskegee medical experiments as outlined in this piece from The Washington Post in the early days of the pandemic. Those fears and concerns are valid, sensitive, and need to be acknowledged when discussing vaccination plans.

I discuss some of these issues further in the on-demand webinar, “Addressing Bias in Healthcare to Optimize Care in Vulnerable Populations,” also featuring Cheri Wilson, Manager for Education and Training, Johns Hopkins Medicine Office of Diversity, Inclusion, & Health Equity.

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Eve Gaus
Editorial Director, Emmi
Eve Gaus is the editorial director for Emmi at Wolters Kluwer, Health. She brings strategic thinking to create a human-centered design to education programs. Eve earned a B.A. in history from Trinity University, then an MSc in Library and Information Science. Prior to Wolters Kluwer, she served as the Manager of Digital Learning at The Field Museum.

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