For several weeks before vaccines were even approved, much less shipped, workers and residents at ArchCare nursing homes and daycare centers were hearing all about it.
"We did a massive communication campaign both internally and to the families of all of our patients," said Dr. Walid Michelen, the chief medical officer for the long-term-care network operated by the Archdiocese of New York.
With help from the pharmacy they invited—a specialty firm called Pharmscript—the ArchCare administrators printed pamphlets, hosted staff meetings and webinars, and had lots of one-on-one conversations. They set what they thought was an ambitious but realistic goal: inoculate 75% of both residents and staff members by March 15.
They very quickly hit the mark with residents—78% signed up and got vaccinated as soon as they had the chance last month.
But they've lagged far behind that with staff members: Only 20% have been vaccinated so far.
"Most say they're taking a wait-and-see approach—like, 'Let's see what happens after this first batch,'" Michelen told Gothamist. "The other thing they seem to be saying is, 'I heard it takes 10 years to get a vaccine approved, so this seems like they rushed it, and I'm not going to take it, until I see that it's really, really safe.'"
(The Centers for Disease Control has detected 21 cases of anaphylaxis, or allergic reaction, in over 1.8 million doses given between December 14-23, 2020).
Listen to WNYC’s Fred Mogul and Gothamist’s Liz Kim explain the latest developments on New York City’s vaccination drive.
Across New York state, only 23% of eligible health care workers in Group 1a have been vaccinated so far, according to Department of Health data. Much of that is due to limited supply, but another factor is lagging demand—the employees’ hesitancy and reluctance. While the state has shared at least some vaccine acceptance figures on hospital workers, they have not said what proportion of those who work in nursing homes, assisted living centers, and other residential settings have been vaccinated.
Retail pharmacy teams contracted by the federal government are going to nursing homes to vaccinate both residents and staff members. But they have done so cautiously. Leading Age, a trade group which represents the state's non-profit nursing homes, says it encouraged nursing homes to only vaccinate one-third of their staff members at a time, in case there were large numbers of adverse reactions.
"I don't think everybody hit the third, but my members in general were not completely disappointed by the uptake among workers," said James Clyne, the president and CEO of Leading Age. "The feedback we've gotten is that sign-up for the second clinic among the staff has been fairly strong. As people see that there has not been a strong reaction from staff who have been vaccinated, confidence seems to be growing."
At ArchCare, Dr. Michelen is intent on having more one-on-one conversations with employees in order to overcome their reluctance.
"We're going to keep doing everything we have been doing, plus come up with new strategies," he said. "We need to go floor by floor, again, but we need to do it for all shifts and make sure that everybody is present, and then have more discussions."
Michelen said just handing out information or lecturing people with facts isn't enough to convince people.
"You have to get at the beliefs and the emotions they have about the vaccine and address their fears," he said, "and then you can try to dispel those myths that people have with facts."
Gabby Seay, who's running the vaccine campaign for SEIU-1199, agrees. The powerful union represents 250,000 health care workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and other settings
"We've surveyed our members and asked them, 'What would it take to convince you to get the vaccine,' and they tell us, 'I'll take it when all my questions are answered,'" Seay said. "We're prepared for folks to have a lot of questions and for this to take a little bit of time to play through."