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Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy to Protect One Another


By Anne Marie Benedicto, Vice President, Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare

Although the supply of COVID-19 vaccines is improving in the United States, we are facing another challenge to stop the spread: vaccine hesitancy. 

About 90% of Americans will qualify for a vaccine and 90% will have a vaccination site within five miles of their home by May, according to President Joe Biden.

To ensure these shots get in as many arms as possible, health care experts will likely need to convince some patients – who may have doubted the severity of pandemic itself or who may have concerns about possible side effects or the role of politics in the vaccine development process – to accept the vaccine. At the same time, many health systems are working to combat health care provider hesitancy, as many front-line health care workers are declining to receive the vaccine. 

Even amid these concerns, recent data shows numbers trending in the right direction. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll published on March 30, 2021, shows more than 6 out of 10 (61%) U.S. adults are vaccinated or intend to do so as soon as possible, as those taking a “wait-and-see” approach shrinks to just 17%. Despite this upward movement, those who will “definitely not” get the vaccine has remained flat at 13% since December. 

As with so many factors in our lives, the influence of family, friends, neighbors and personal physicians weighs strongly in most people’s willingness to receive one of the available COVID-19 vaccines.. Vaccine acceptance is a multi-faceted issue that is affected by other long-standing problems like systemic racism and unequal access to care. To help address these concerns, health care providers are focusing much of their outreach efforts on minority communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Assuring equal access is critical, and there is no question that health care has significant ground to make up when it comes to providing equitable care for all. We must be mindful not to generalize and to understand the root of people’s concerns as vaccine hesitation is a symptom of larger and very real concerns about:

  • racial equity
  • access in health care
  • impressions of the process that created and vetted existing vaccines

Health care leaders have a role in helping patients who are hesitant to receive the vaccine. Taking time to understand people’s concerns and providing helpful, data-driven insights is important to address fears and correct misinformation. 

Front-line health care workers who have been at the forefront of caring for people with COVID-19 can be among our strongest allies to combat vaccine hesitation. Engaging providers and caregivers to talk about their own personal experiences with vaccinations can provide vital reassurance to hesitant individuals and families. 

President Biden targeted Independence Day as the time when we may safely celebrate together and remember those we have lost as friends, families, communities and as a country. This will truly be a memorable day – but there are many more millions of people who need a COVID-19 vaccine before July 4.  Lend your voice to this great effort and champion vaccinations.

Anne Marie Benedicto is Vice President of the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare. She was previously chief of staff and executive vice president of support operations for The Joint Commission from 2008 through 2015, before serving as assistant vice president of hospital operations at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Prior to these roles, Ms. Benedicto was administrator for both the Office for Excellence in Patient Care at the Mount Sinai Medical Center and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Department of Health Policy. She also held finance-related positions at the New York City Health & Hospitals Corporation, including Reimbursement Director for Bellevue Hospital Center.