COVID-19 vaccine: steps we’re taking to encourage uptake among staff in minority groups

Sensitivity to healthcare staff’s concerns about the jab is essential to boost uptake

Sensitivity to nursing staff’s fears about coronavirus vaccination is essential if managers are to boost uptake

Picture: Alamy

Long before receiving its first batch of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, the Royal Marsden started to lay the groundwork for a successful roll-out.

The importance of this needs no explaining – getting it right would mean keeping as many staff and patients safe from coronavirus as possible.

Healthcare staff’s vaccine concerns

As vaccinations got underway, concerns about the vaccine naturally emerged among many staff, including those from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) communities, who make up 35% of our workforce.

These were often related to the speed of vaccine development, whether the vaccine had been tested on all ethnic groups, faith-based concerns about vaccine ingredients, and any potential, immediate and long-term side effects related to, for example, fertility or underlying health conditions.

We also heard about other barriers to vaccination such as shift patterns

Striking a delicate balance in our internal communications

Reassuring staff and removing barriers to vaccination has been a priority.

Here’s how we did it:

  • We provided staff with accurate, credible and up-to-date information about the vaccine via our internal communications channels to promote uptake and allay fears.
  • Before the date of the vaccine rollout was confirmed, we distributed a survey to gauge staff interest levels and identify potentially reluctant teams, along with communications to build a sense of excitement and to help people prepare for their jab.
  • Offered regular updates via email and WhatsApp.
  • We held dedicated all-staff ‘vaccine special’ webinars with extended questions and answers hosted by staff with expertise in virology.
  • Encouraged uncertain staff to engage by giving them option of asking questions anonymously. Their questions were then fed into an extended FAQs document circulated to staff.
  • We also paid close attention to advice from our BAME forum on when to pull communications back.
    It was important staff didn’t feel under pressure or singled out.
  • Finally, we understood some people simply needed more space and time to decide.

Trust leaders met staff to take about vaccine worries

The hospital’s leadership team made a real effort personally to engage with staff about the vaccine and build trust in its efficacy.

This included meeting smaller groups of BAME staff to have conversations about the jab, which allowed for reservations to be addressed in an informal setting.

Senior staff also took time to walk around the hospital and chat to staff about the vaccine.

Staff in leadership and senior roles from BAME backgrounds, including me, posted pictures of ourselves on social media receiving the vaccine and were visible in communications. For example, I appeared on staff screensavers to help reassure staff and encourage others to follow our lead.

Hospital staff had the opportunity to speak to a doctor or prescriber on the day of their vaccination appointment. This meant many who had been unsure went ahead and, to allay fears about the vaccine being ‘pre-prepared’, some were able to watch it being drawn up.

Angela Little on vaccination duty

How to support healthcare staff to have the coronavirus vaccine

  • Take time to listen to staff’s concerns about the vaccine, as well as understanding and removing other potential barriers to booking an appointment
  • Optimise internal communication channels to provide clear, up-to-date information. Remember balance is key – too much pressure on staff or singling out certain groups could be counterproductive
  • Ensure senior BAME staff and experts have open conversations about the vaccine with staff
  • Tailor appointments to meet the needs of all staff with flexible appointment times and multiple booking methods

Support and flexibility in booking appointments

Many of our staff from BAME backgrounds are in front-line, often non-desk-based, roles, and we saw lower uptake in some of these teams for a variety of reasons, including workload, difficulties accessing the online appointment booking form or finding a slot to fit around shifts.

To make sure all staff had the opportunity to have the vaccine if they chose, we engaged management to book appointments on their behalf, offered flexible appointments times, including some walk-in and evening slots, and provided an email address option for people experiencing issues with the booking form.

Antibody test results are exciting news for the future

So far, 84% of all Royal Marsden staff and 75% of the hospital’s BAME workforce have had first COVID-19 vaccine.

The Royal Marsden has now started to distribute second doses of the vaccine along with more first doses to staff who were not able to, or chose not to, be vaccinated earlier.

Excitingly, we were able to start this round of vaccinations with results from our first week of antibody testing (8-12 March) revealing that 97% of trust staff tested now have COVID-19 antibodies.

We hope this news, further supporting research that the vaccine is highly effective in producing a measurable long-lasting response, even after one dose, will help ensure our vaccine uptake continues to climb.

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