The rollout of vaccines for COVID-19 has received mixed reactions among healthcare workers. What should be deemed as a light at the end of the tunnel is perceived by many as a premature solution to the ongoing pandemic. Healthcare workers were the first in the United States to be offered COVID-19 vaccinations. But three months into the effort, many remain unconvinced, unreached, and unprotected.
According to the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, at 52%, barely half of healthcare workers had received at least their first vaccine dose at the time they were surveyed, and more than 1 in 3 said they were not confident that the vaccines were sufficiently tested for safety and effectiveness. The data is based on interviews with 1,327 frontline healthcare workers in a variety of settings.
Low Vaccination Rates in Home Healthcare
More specifically, the poll also revealed that of these already vaccinated workers, only 26% are home health workers, making them the least vaccinated healthcare professionals. This is in comparison to 66% of workers in hospitals, 64% of workers in outpatient clinics, and 50% of workers in nursing homes or assisted care facilities.
Besides the doubts and distrust surrounding the efficacy of the vaccine, there are other factors that play into the low rates of vaccination in home healthcare specifically. While hospital employees can get vaccinated easily now, workers in home care and long-term care have much less access. For instance, industry advocates said that the federal program that brought vaccines to nursing home employees and residents has finished, and that there is no plan for easily vaccinating employees who change their minds or new residents and staff.
Home health never had a special vaccination program and their employees do not work in a central location due to the nature of their work. While a few agencies have managed vaccination programs for their employees, many have not. For the most part, new nursing home employees and home health aides have to battle for appointments with the general public. As a result, less than 20% of employees at certain home care organizations have received a shot.
Factors in Vaccine Decision
A key variable in people’s decision to get vaccinated is access. The poll underscores the major role that employers play in providing vaccinations to healthcare workers. Nearly 8 in 10 of those who said they had been vaccinated received doses from their employers. Among those who planned to get vaccinated, just over 6 in 10 said they planned to do so through their employer, though roughly 3 in 10 said their employer had not offered them a shot.
Generally, the poll showed that hesitancy in getting vaccinated revolves around three core ideas: safety, trust, and efficacy. 12% have not decided to get vaccinated, while 18% have no plans of getting vaccinated at all. Among these workers who are either unsure or do not plan to get vaccinated, 82% are worried about possible side effects, 81% want to wait and see how it works for others, and 65% do not trust the government to make sure the vaccine is safe and effective.
Addressing Low Vaccination Rates
It is understandable that there is a significant number of COVID-19 vaccine resisters. It is a novel virus after all, and the development of the vaccines has been done over a matter of months. However, criticizing those who are unsure or who have no plans at all of getting vaccinated is counterproductive. Instead, what needs to be put in place is an education drive about the vaccines on a community level. Information from industry leaders and experts must be easily accessible and widely spread. Fear of the unknown is real, so the more people know about something, the less they are scared.
Personal testimonials by colleagues are also a big factor in tipping the balance towards vaccination. It is proven to be true in marketing that people trust what their friends and loved ones say over ads. The same could be applied in healthcare, essentially a business of trust. Another very important component in increasing vaccination rates is employer initiative. When people are on the fence, having convenient access can often convince them to get vaccinated.
Future of Home Healthcare Amidst COVID-19 Vaccination
Home health providers face a huge challenge in this pandemic as they work very closely with their patients in a sensitive location: the patient’s home. In addition, home health clinicians travel to different patient homes and see multiple patients daily, increasing their risk of exposure to the virus. On the other hand, now that the U.S. has a large-scale vaccine rollout, the possibility of clients refusing to employ unvaccinated clinicians and caregivers is also there. While there have been efforts by home health agencies to provide vaccines for their employees, there are isolated cases where there is little to no access due to unclear guidelines.
What agencies can do is lobby public health officials on behalf of their clinicians and caregivers to specifically include home health workers in vaccination programs. Agencies should also establish information drives to educate clinicians and caregivers on the importance and safety of available COVID-19 vaccines by debunking myths and addressing concerns. Home health has great potential to reinforce the healthcare system, as the hospital-at-home model is being explored in the home health industry to provide acute, hospital-level care to patients in the comforts of their own homes.
Home health agencies truly play a key role in advocating for their workers’ overall well-being, especially when it comes to protecting them against COVID-19. In the long run, this will have an impact on the future of home health as a significant extension of the healthcare industry.
Learn more about the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation Poll here>