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How to talk with patients about vaccine concerns.
COVID-19 vaccination has become a tricky subject for providers to navigate during patient visits. While we need to understand our patients’ vaccination status to care for them, we must also remain sensitive to potential vaccine hesitancy. Against this backdrop lies a golden opportunity for us to help our patients make sound, educated decisions about whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Only about 55% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.1 Despite a slight rise in vaccination rates due to the Delta variant, daily vaccination rates remain far below their peak.2 Providers may assume that people who are not vaccinated do not want to be vaccinated; however, many other factors may be at play including misinformation and social determinants of health.
Recent data suggests that most Americans trust their doctors and other health care workers.3,4 Therefore, providers can play an integral role in increasing vaccination rates across the U.S., but only if we first understand each patient’s unique situation and concerns. We must get to the root of existing barriers.
Some of the most common potential barriers include lack of transportation or health care access, lack of education/guidance, misinformation, and financial misunderstanding. Although providers may not be able to address all barriers, many can be overcome by connecting patients with existing community resources.
For example, free transportation services available through health plans, ride-sharing companies, and other community groups can make vaccination clinics accessible to those without transportation. Other patients may mistakenly believe they have to pay for a vaccination or are worried about vaccine side effects. Providers can alleviate such anxieties by offering accurate information.
The process of motivational interviewing can help identify and address health barriers. It is a collaborative, patient-centered way to guide conversations, and it is just as effective for informing COVID-19 vaccination decisions as it is for overcoming medication non-compliance and other challenges.
Motivational interviewing entails four steps represented by the acronym OARS:
Many patients look to their health care providers for up-to-date knowledge, which gives us an excellent opportunity to combat misinformation. For example, providers can explain that researchers were developing mRNA vaccines years before COVID-19 emerged, so they are not using new technology rushed to market. We can explain how the vaccines benefit individuals, their families, their friends, and their communities’ “normal” way of life.
As providers, we cannot discount our power to persuade. Patients who receive accurate intelligence from a trusted source like their doctor may better understand the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination and therefore increase vaccination rates nationwide.
Through motivational interviewing, providers can identify and start to overcome barriers to care. We can help patients make educated choices about protecting themselves, their loved ones, and their communities.