The coronavirus vaccine is our country’s solution to turning the COVID-19 curve in the right direction. For most health systems, hospitals, medical groups, and practices, step one is educating and inoculating your workforce.
Vaccinating healthcare workers and other segments of the population against COVID-19 will be the biggest public health effort of its kind in our history. Initially, there will be limited supply compared to the immediate, high demand. And distributing, storing, scheduling, vaccinating, and tracking is a huge task.
Early Access for Healthcare Workers
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel made recommendations in early December to give healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents the first vaccine doses.
There’s no question about the need to provide the nearly 21 million healthcare workers early access to the vaccine based on their exposure. The duty of communicating to them about the immunization process at your health system will fall to you as your organization’s communication team.
The CDC and its partners are already planning the vaccines’ delivery operations and recommended timelines. The government’s preplanning means the vaccine will roll out very quickly after FDA approval.
Is Your Internal Communication Plan Ready?
Reduce confusion and stop the inadvertent spread of misinformation with a solid internal communication plan about the vaccine. Make your organization the hub for accurate, timely messages.
Prepare communications now to:
- Deliver messages of assurance about the availability of vaccines for your healthcare workers. Make sure staff know your organization is laying the groundwork to be able to vaccinate them quickly. Address questions like:
- When you’ll receive doses
- Which workers get priority
- Will vaccination be required to work at your organization, or can they wait, or not get the vaccine at all
- Educate staff about the vaccine you’ll offer, as well as the value and need to get vaccinated. Don’t assume just because your audience is healthcare workers that they trust the COVID-19 vaccine and want to get inoculated. Healthcare workers have the same concerns as the general population – see our tips for addressing vaccine objections.
- Communicate how to get vaccinated at your organization. Share logistics, such as:
- Appointment scheduling
- What to expect
- Possible side effects
- When and how to receive the second dose
- Monitor the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine through
- Internal monitoring and adverse events systems
- Reporting vaccine safety and effectiveness to the CDC
Support Your Internal Team
As you know, this is a stressful time for healthcare professionals. Your staff will appreciate reminders about support and assistance in place to help them cope, such as:
- Employee assistance program for short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services
- Wellness programs
- Community well-being resources
Plan for Quick, Reliable Communications
Throughout the pandemic, you’ve been able to identify the best channels to communicate with your internal audiences. Perhaps it’s your employee intranet, weekly publications, staff meetings, or regular emails. Many of our healthcare clients favor using their intranet for timely, cost-effective messaging.
Keep your messaging simple and easy to understand. Simple messaging helps stop misinformation from spreading. Timestamp your communications to allow people to easily identify the most current information.
Now is the time to start moving important vaccine information out quickly and effectively to your internal team. See additional tips for communicating to internal audiences during a public health crisis from March 2020.
Flexibility is Key
Creating and following a plan is hard when news about the vaccine approval and delivery changes day-by-day. Flexibility is key to reducing chaos. Arm your organization with accurate and timely information and ways to adjust messaging rapidly and delivery channels when needed.
Curate Your Messages
Anticipate the information your internal teams want to know about COVID-19 vaccines and communicate it proactively. Start with the CDC’s Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccination page.
If you need more insight, ask your front-line clinical leaders what questions or concerns they’ve heard from their teams about the COVID-19 vaccination. You could also use keyword research to guide your question development. Possible questions include:
- If you’ve had the coronavirus and recovered, do you still need to get the vaccine?
- Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
- Is the vaccine safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or women planning to become pregnant?
- How long after vaccination before you develop immunity?
Evolving Action Plans & Updates
As vaccine information evolves, continue to update your internal team on topics such as:
- Action plans – Detail what your organization is doing to ensure easy access to the vaccine, timing, and other measures to keep staff safe. Remember to update staff about your successes to build support and compliance.
- Supply status – Communicate your vaccine supply status, so people know what is available and when. Clarify how you’re working with the government or suppliers to get the vaccine.
- Staffing updates – Continue to inform your team on what they can expect regarding staffing during the inoculation period and your staff expectations.
Open the Door to Questions
Questions will arise even with the most informative communication plan. Listen and try to understand concerns about the vaccines. Use your intranet or a dedicated email to allow employees to submit vaccine questions and get answers promptly.
To save your team from answering questions more than once, create informative content on your intranet with answers to the most common questions. Most of the time, we favor this approach over creating Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages. However, a prioritized list of fewer than 20 questions and answers could be useful for your staff.
Inform Staff About Your Public Messaging
Be transparent about the messages your organization is releasing to patients, the community, and the media. This helps your internal team share correct information with the public. Your internal teams will value hearing from you first, not from news stations or social media.
As your plan for providing vaccines to the public firms up, update your staff about their involvement. This will prepare them for their participation in your plans. Vaccination education might be necessary to train staff to answer questions from people receiving the vaccine.