There’s good news on the vaccination front in our CIUSSS: Three-quarters of staff in long-term care homes have now received the COVID-19 vaccine, one of the highest rates in Montreal.
The coverage means greater protection for staff and residents against the coronavirus. And it signals the success of a wide-ranging effort by CIUSSS West-Central Montreal to reach out to staff with vaccine hesitancy, address their concerns, and, ultimately, lead them to take the jab.
The 76-per-cent vaccination coverage, attained by the end of April, is the highest ever in the network’s history of recording vaccination rates, such as those in flu campaigns.
“Our teams in long-term care worked tremendously hard on this. They did great work,” says Erin Cook, Associate Director of the Support Program for the Autonomy of Seniors (SAPA). “I’m very proud of their efforts.”
One key to the campaign was making vaccination easily accessible. In April, our CIUSSS held pop-up vaccination clinics in long-term care homes, available to staff on day, evening or night shifts.
In just one week in mid-April, 150 employees were vaccinated at six residences across our CIUSSS.
Even before the mobile clinics arrived, however, our teams laid the groundwork for success by reaching out to those who were resisting the vaccine. The causes behind people’s hesitation to get vaccinated vary, from fear of needles to worry that the COVID-19 vaccine had been rushed into production and was unsafe.
Tackling those worries was critical: Vaccinating staff in long-term care is a healthcare priority in Quebec, since unvaccinated workers can pose a threat to fragile seniors.
A team of four experienced nurses from our CIUSSS, who came out of retirement to work on the vaccination effort within Human Resources, spoke to hundreds of staff members over the phone to hear their concerns. They answered questions without resorting to pressure or coercion; many doubters ended up coming around on their own.
“Our goal was to accompany our staff as they made their decision, listen to their concerns and, with their permission, offer them information,” says Valérie Vandal, one of the nurses on the team.
The education effort extended beyond phone calls. Teams of physicians and nurses roamed the floors of the long-term care sites, speaking informally with staff and answering their questions. Pamphlets were left on the units with vaccine information and a contact name in their workplace. Co-workers who had been vaccinated wore buttons and became “vaccination champions.”
At the Saint Andrew Residential Centre, Site Coordinator Hetal Patel and the head nurse invited staff to meet in groups or one on one.
“We told them, ‘Just come see us and we’ll try to give you all the information that is validated and based on science,’” says Ms. Patel, Program Coordinator for SAPA-Long Term Care. “We said, ‘We don’t want to force anybody. We just want you to make an informed decision.’”
All combined, the strategies turned into the right recipe for tackling vaccination hesitancy—and perhaps establishing a blueprint for vaccination campaigns in the future.
“There was no one magic bullet. We allowed people to make an informed decision, not a forced or rushed one,” says Ms. Cook. “In the end, it was really successful and positive.”