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Healthcare staffing has always come with challenges. For some facilities, staffing difficulties have intensified recently with the federal vaccine mandates affecting healthcare workers. There aren’t enough nursing candidates to begin with, so narrowing the pool further can present new difficulties. How can healthcare managers staff their facilities if they’re encountering candidates or employees who hesitate to get vaccinated? We review the top strategies for addressing vaccine hesitancy in your workplace, so you can maintain staffing ratios and protect your organization.

Which Healthcare Workers are Vaccine-Hesitant? 

Vaccine hesitancy is a big issue for healthcare organizations trying to hit their staffing ratios, but it doesn’t affect all positions equally. As of August, the American Nurses Association reported that 88% of surveyed nurses had been vaccinated—a major improvement from July when 27% of nurses hadn’t received a shot.

Of all healthcare workers, nurses are by far the most likely to be hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. By comparison, physicians are almost universally in favor of vaccination. 

While it’s illuminating to realize this sentiment isn’t equally shared across professions, the fact that vaccine-hesitant healthcare workers are mainly nurses poses a problem. Nurses generally have the greatest amount of contact with patients, so it’s vital they are prepared to confidently share facts. Nurses’ vaccine hesitancy is also a troubling trend for recruiters who are struggling to reach enough nursing candidates.

Educate Your Staff About Vaccine Safety

Most vaccine hesitancy comes from misinformation. One study from the University of Michigan found that the most common reason unvaccinated nurses avoided the shot was concern that the vaccine was developed too quickly and that it might have undocumented side effects.

Luckily, these fears may be allayed with proper education. If you’re encountering vaccine hesitancy, consider holding training sessions to help staff understand how the COVID-19 vaccines were developed. Take-home resources may also be helpful, but in-person workshops will let you answer questions and ensure employees complete the training. Focus on the numbers, sharing how many people have been vaccinated and what percentage has experienced side effects. To give some context, compare this to the number of people who get side effects from the flu shot. 

Help employees understand that the COVID-19 vaccines were produced quickly thanks in part to technology that had been in development for years, China’s aggressive approach to fighting viral outbreaks, and a concentration of federal resources. The vaccines did not skip any tests, but developers did organize overlapping trial stages so the vaccines would be ready in a shorter period of time. 

Educating nursing staff has two huge benefits: they may be less hesitant to get vaccinated, and they’ll be better prepared to educate their patients. 

Promote and Support Diverse Workers 

Of all nurses surveyed by the JAMA Network, Black and Latinx respondents were the most likely to report vaccine hesitancy. Latinx nurses were approximately two times more likely to be hesitant than white nurses; Black nurses were five times more hesitant than their white coworkers. 

For some, vaccine hesitancy is just one piece of a general distrust of the American healthcare system, stemming from hundreds of years of systemic racism. Healthcare leaders must understand that given healthcare’s history this distrust is justified. Indeed, Black people have died of COVID-related complications at a rate 2.7 times higher than white people. This is partially due to inequities in healthcare access, and partially because the BIPOC community makes up a disproportionate percentage of front-line and essential workers, and therefore is at an increased risk of exposure. 

Researchers suggest more people would get vaccinated if they got information from professionals with whom they felt an affinity. Be mindful of how you’re sharing vaccine-related information with your employees. You’ll get farther if you enter these conversations from a place of empathy and understanding. 

Hire Faster and More Widely

At the end of the day, there are some nurses who would prefer to lose their jobs than get vaccinated. If you encounter this attitude, your best bet is to improve your hiring, so you’re not stuck with resistant candidates.

Increase your hiring speed by posting to the right job sites and reviewing your process for potential inefficiencies. Pre-screen your candidates to quickly find vaccinated nurses.

We’ve got you covered with tips to hire more healthcare workers, no matter what challenges you’re facing. 

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Pritma Chattha, DNP MHA RN

Pritma is a Yale-educated nurse executive with 18 years of experience advocating for patients at the bedside and in the boardroom. She currently serves as the Head of Healthcare Innovation at Apploi—healthcare's leading recruitment and credentialing platform. Over the last decade, Pritma has honed her expertise as a health informaticist, building and improving electronic health records and credentialing platforms. She is the immediate former Executive Director of Electronic Quality and Safety for Alberta Health Services, the largest health system in Canada. Pritma enjoys rethinking healthcare processes to provide safer, better, and more accessible healthcare.