Across the country, states are granting vaccine access to more and more individuals, with some even offering the opportunity to anyone over the age of 16. But for home-based care agencies, the fight to inoculate clients and seniors is still very much ongoing.
Additionally, addressing hesitancy and stomping out misleading or false claims about the vaccine continues to be a troublesome hurdle for providers.
Convincing patients that the environment they’re being cared for in is safe — usually their homes, with a caregiver or home health aide present — has likewise been a point of focus. That’s at least true for Johns Hopkins Home Care Group, according to Penny Carey, its senior director of respiratory therapy and home medical equipment.
“Our employees are not required to provide information on their vaccine status unless they choose to do so,” Carey said Wednesday during a webinar hosted by the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC). “We consider this obviously protected information under HIPAA. However, we notice this situation is happening, and so we’ve worked in collaboration with the health system on scripting our employees and giving them a tool they can use if they are asked about their vaccination status by a patient or the patient’s family members.”
According to data provided by Johns Hopkins Home Care Group, almost 7% of its employees have outright declined to take the vaccine. Otherwise, they have received it or are waiting to become eligible, if they are not considered a part of the immediately-eligible health worker group.
About 75% of Johns Hopkins personnel have been vaccinated. Workers are instructed to tell patients that all direct care workers have been offered the vaccine since it became available in December.
The biggest issues that both Johns Hopkins and others have reportedly had with vaccine hesitancy are unfounded claims about the vaccine, such as fertility questions and concerns over vaccine-provoked illnesses.
“We know that there was a lot of inaccurate information and rumors floating about online and through other media,” Carey said. “So it’s critical that we provide our staff with a place to find correct, factual and timely information.”
Some examples of how Johns Hopkins specifically has communicated this information to its workforce has been through quarterly town hall meetings and regular emails with timely articles, plus monthly newsletters, videos and more.
“For example, one of the rumors that comes to mind was a concern that COVID-19 vaccine would affect fertility,” Mitra Gavgani, the VP of pharmacy services at Johns Hopkins Home Care Group, said on the webinar. “Obviously this is not true. But we understand the employee concern, and so we added that to the employees frequently asked questions page on COVID-19.”
Current COVID-19 environment
Part of what makes the vaccine situation so urgent is that COVID-19 variants are taking hold in the U.S. — and the virus is spiking once again.
The race to vaccinate the U.S. has a clear opponent: the present variants that scientists are aware of and any new ones that could pop up before herd immunity is reached.
“We’re in the middle of a surge right now, and obviously people have let down their guard down a bit,” Dr. Gabor Kelen, a professor and chair of the department of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University, said on the webinar. “This surge will probably last at least a month before it starts to come down again.”
Kelen predicts that it will be two to three months until there’s a significant enough portion of the population vaccinated to where the U.S. can start claiming herd immunity.
“Until then, it is still going to be an issue, and it’s a battle of time against whether the variants take hold,” Kelen said. “On paper, the very good news is that among people aged 65 and older, about 70% have already received their first shot and half of those are fully vaccinated.”
At least half of those seniors that have gotten at least one shot have also gotten the other if they have taken the Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) or Moderna (Nasdaq: MRNA) vaccine, and not the Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), which only requires one shot.
In the end, the data from the year’s worth of trials is clear: The vaccines are safe and the efficacy of them is not in question, according to the Johns Hopkins leaders. Now, it’s on home-based care agencies to provide the right information to their clients and workers.