Due to deliberate misinformation, the concept of vaccine mandates has become strangely divisive in America, a country that successfully spearheaded the eradication of polio from Earth. Thanks to near-universal vaccination in the United States, there has not been a significant outbreak of measles, mumps, nor rubella in decades because vaccines are safe and effective.
Opponents of vaccines without any scientific training undermine some of the country’s most trusted voices. Medical professionals are swimming upstream against a flood of misinformation. Sadly, many firms caved to the pressure from non-scientist agitators. For example, Ballad Health refused to mandate vaccines among staff, concerned that such an edict would create political blowback and employee shortages. Their corporate decision, based on fear and not facts, undermines the safety of health professionals, patients, and families by increasing the risk of infection, severe illness, and death from COVID.
Unfortunately, among healthcare workers, some hesitancy still remains. One recent University of Michigan survey showed that of the nearly 11,500 survey respondents, 8.4 percent (or 954 individuals) expressed hesitancy, and 3.2 percent of the participants would “not ever” be inoculated. As Modern Healthcare points out, healthcare workers are respected role models in their communities. Their vaccine hesitancy therefore has major ripple effects.
Certain actions can be key in ending hesitancy, among them constant fact-based and peer-reviewed education, transparency in the highlighting the results of the vaccine research and approval process, and a bit of hard-nosed pressureagainst anti-science agitators with an extremist agenda.
During 2021, VA’s new leaders adopted the right model by holistically applying a tiered and stringent vaccine mandate that applies to any workplace position that comes into contact with veteran patients, from healthcare workers and engineers to housekeepers, clerical support specialists, and pharmacists. “This pandemic is not over, and VA must do everything in our power to protect Veterans from COVID-19,” explained VA Secretary McDonough. “With this expanded mandate, we can once again make – and keep – that fundamental promise”
McDonough’s approach is far bolder than the halfhearted efforts in the private healthcare industry. Critical to the mandate are a number of activities including assuring that vaccines are provided at no-cost to employees and giving employees time off if they suffer side effects from the vaccine. This mandate has also been coupled with frequent communication and education of staff. Moreover, it has been phased in slowly, with enough time for employees to ask questions, hear answers, and move forward at a fair pace. While it will certainly encounter pushback from a minority of staff, the mandate will eventually create a new normal so that any perceived dangers are minimized. When employees see that colleagues, who have been vaccinated, are, in fact, doing fine afterwards this can significantly impact their views of vaccination.
VA’s actions send a strong, positive, and pro-vaccine signal to veterans, families, and the public at large that VA’s healthcare experts know the vaccine works properly and they trust it.