JASMEET BHOGAL, MD, MBA
PRESIDENT OF THE CUCM BOARD OF DIRECTORS+
Talking to patients and our staff regarding the importance of vaccination and addressing their concerns and fears has never been more important than the current times. Yet, it is somehow one of the toughest conversations to have today. With the amount of misinformation and incorrect messaging that is currently being circulated, it is no wonder that only 54.1% of our population has been fully vaccinated as of August 13, 2021 (CDC data). Our clinicians are experiencing challenges to these conversations and often, our emotions are getting the best of us and making us say and do things that can derail our ultimate efforts of getting more people vaccinated.
As clinicians we know that immunity against viruses such as COVID can be achieved via natural means, aka, getting infected, and, by getting the vaccine. The natural method does confer immunity, however, if left by itself, this alone leads to significant suffering and, worst case, death. We are all aware of the flu pandemic of 1918. Yes, we got over that pandemic, however, the cost was 50 million lives worldwide, a staggering one third of the world population at the time, with 675,000 of them in the U.S. With vaccines coming into the picture, immunity against such viruses, including COVID-19, can be achieved while reducing the death and suffering associated with attaining natural immunity. No one wants to have a severe illness which can potentially lead to death. With the availability of vaccines, no one should have to make that choice, and this message needs to be delivered clearly to everyone.
In order to deliver this message, we as clinicians have to make sure that prior to having these discussions with staff and patients, we are building trust and creating an environment which is conducive to have such discussions. Shaming the unvaccinated and pointing fingers at them will not help us increase our vaccination rates. Especially, shaming someone who now has COVID and did not get the vaccine is not going to solve any purpose. We have to proactively ask if someone has any questions regarding the vaccine and also acknowledge the fact that it is okay to have/ask questions. Our job as clinicians is to answer those questions using scientific knowledge and evidence-based data. Bringing political issues into our discussions with patients will not help our cause.
It is completely understandable that when seeing so much suffering around us, being overworked, fatigued, and burnt out, it is sometimes tough to have empathy or even sympathy for people who find themselves inflicted with COVID when they’ve chose not to, or delayed, a decision to receive the vaccine. Trying to have this conversation with a healthy person who refuses to get vaccinated can be even tougher. These are times when our leadership skills are truly being tested. The only way we will be able to a meaningful impact with the vaccination rates is by building trust with our patients and our teams. There is power in how we care for every single patient. Trying to have these conversations regarding the importance of vaccination will help us move the needle one patient at a time. If each of the urgent care professionals in the country can move the needle by even a couple of patients a day, the national impact will undoubtedly be significant.