We begin the new year with optimism after the emergency use approval of two COVID-19 vaccines and more in the pipeline. These vaccines are urgently needed as the virus continues to surge. We’re especially thrilled to see health care workers on the frontlines obtain the benefits of the vaccine after months of bravely caring for patients.
Transparent, rigorous clinical trials have shown the vaccines to be safe and to have very high rates of efficacy after two doses. Even so, there is considerable hesitancy among many about getting the vaccine. For instance, in our work with nursing homes throughout the state, managers said their top concern about the vaccine roll-out is staff hesitancy — with reported hesitancy rates as much as 30 to 40 percent. The issues raised include fears about short and long-term side effects, the safety of the vaccine for people with co-morbidities, and whether and when people who already had COVID should get the vaccine. Through our work in Rutgers Project Echo, we are ensuring that health care experts are respectful of every question and provide answers. The experts are transparent and candid about what we know, and what we don’t yet know.
Trusted voices in health care must lead this conversation. That’s why I’m turning over my space here to the active health care professionals on the Quality Institute board and one of our senior fellows. They share why they personally rolled up their sleeves and got vaccinated and why others should as well. The word we heard most often from them is relief. I understand that sense of relief. I registered with New Jersey’s vaccination registration site and I am eager to get the vaccine when my turn comes. I was relieved when my 94-year-old father-in-law, a practicing physician, received his first dose of vaccine.
I also encourage you to read and share our Take Five in this newsletter with Elizabeth Cherot, MD, MBA, Chief Medical Officer of Axia Women’s Health. Dr. Cherot answers questions about the vaccine and pregnancy.
Here are the voices, accompanied by photos, that I want to share:
“At Henry J. Austin Health Center, we understand and are sensitive to the history of research and clinical trials in our communities of color. As such, we have been intentional about sharing all that we know about the COVID-19 vaccines. We have read all the articles, journals, and research documents on the COVID-19 vaccine and shared all that we know, actively participating in community town halls, social media posts, and educational website blogs. I feel very comfortable getting the vaccine myself and recommending it to all those who I care about, including my family, friends and people in our community.”
Kemi Alli, M.D., Chief Executive Officer at Henry J. Austin Health Center, a federally qualified health center, and Quality Institute Board Member.
“What I say to colleagues is that the vaccine has less potential side effects than other vaccines and has greater efficacy than most flu shots. Getting a critical mass of front line workers vaccinated is our only way out of the pandemic and back to our full professional lives. For patients, I say that we are getting vaccinated for each other and for our communities. Every step of the vaccine evaluation process was taken with large and diverse groups of patients prior to emergency use approval. The mRNA vaccine has less potential allergic response and fewer side effects than vaccines produced in eggs. I stress that everyone should get the vaccine when its available to them, especially seniors and people with chronic conditions.”
Mary F. Campagnolo, M.D., MBA, Chair of the Department of Family Medicine Virtua North – Memorial Hospital, and Medical Director of Value Based Programs, Virtua Medical Group. Dr. Campagnolo is a Quality Institute Board Member.
“I was in the vaccine trials, and after the trials were un-blinded I learned I had received a placebo. The first thing I did was schedule and then receive the actual vaccine. I felt great…a great sense of relief. The vaccine finally gives me peace of mind, as it does for so many of our front-line health care workers who no longer have to be afraid to do their jobs. So getting the vaccine is such a relief. But I will continue wearing my mask, social distancing, and avoiding gatherings until we reach at least 70 percent to 80 percent vaccination rates.”
Shereef Elnahal, M.D., MBA, President and CEO University Hospital and Quality Institute Board Member.
“I always emphasize to both my colleagues and my patients that getting the vaccine is our way out of COVID-19. Having taken it myself, I feel more protected and more committed to ensuring that the general population understands its value and safety.”
Suzanne M. Miller, PhD, Professor and Director of the Patient Empowerment and Decision Making Department at Fox Chase Cancer Center/Temple University Health System, and Quality Institute Board Chair.
“I received my vaccine in December and the only side effect I felt was a sense of relief that this long global nightmare would soon be coming to an end. I’ve faced questions from friends, family, and patients about the safety of the vaccine. My answer to them is always the same: Once you’re eligible, get the vaccine! It is safe, has minimal side effects, and, most importantly, it works. The vaccine, combined with appropriate social distancing measures, will start us back on the road to normalcy, a road that ends with family vacations, dinners with friends, and spending time with your grandparents.”
John Pepen, MPP, MD, is an emergency general surgeon at Overlook Regional Medical Center and a Quality Institute Senior Fellow.