In 2021, COVID-19 vaccines brought hope and the promise of a return to normal life for communities across our region, the nation and the world. Yet vaccine hesitancy functioned as a barrier that prevented some individuals from getting immunized. Lower levels of vaccination have corresponded to increased morbidity and mortality from COVID-19, exacerbating health disparities, particularly among communities of color.
Inova endeavored to understand and address vaccine hesitancy among our patients, in a multipronged initiative led by IHVI cardiologist Cleveland Francis Jr., MD, Chairman of the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute Committee on Equity, Healthcare Disparities, Education and Outreach.
The first step was to analyze vaccination rates by zip code to identify neighborhoods with lower rates and pinpoint barriers to immunization. The analysis revealed that a percentage of the whole Inova community – not concentrated among any certain group – was reluctant to get immunized.
“We decided to address hesitancy generally, rather than targeting a specific group directly,” Dr. Francis said. “Our community is diverse – for example, although 85 percent of our population speaks English as their primary language, 15 percent of our patients speak a wide range of languages. We needed to devise a way to reach people in a personalized way – and we found that our doctors were the right messengers for this effort.”
Doctors Encouraged Patients to “Get the Vaccine”
According to a 2021 Kaiser survey, 85 percent of people trusted their doctors to give them reliable information about the COVID-19 vaccines, more than any other information source. Dr. Francis partnered with executives and physicians across all five Inova hospitals to get physicians to record brief audio clips – in a dozen languages – encouraging people to get vaccinated. These clips were paired with a photo of the doctor, creating brief video files that were distributed on the web and through social media, meeting people where they are: their smartphones.
The second aspect of Inova’s effort was to incorporate COVID-19 vaccination screening questions into Inova’s electronic medical records system, so that every encounter at an Inova outpatient site became an opportunity for providers to discuss vaccines. Data gathered from the pop-up screening tool also provided key information on where Inova should concentrate its continuing efforts to address vaccine hesitancy.
Later, the Inova “Get the Vaccine” website also included a series of English and Spanish videos, produced by the Fairfax County Public Schools VaxUP initiative, which were geared to a child audience and included topics such as “How does the vaccine work?” and “How can my family prepare me for vaccination?”
These efforts are consistent with Inova’s goal to create and maintain a foundation of trust and a commitment to one-on-one engagement with each patient to reduce the health disparities and inequities that contribute to vaccine hesitancy in our community.
These are the key people who assisted Dr. Francis in this effort and without whom these initiatives would not have been possible:
- Anne Talley, Inova Media Center Manager
- Shana Rieger, Digital and Social Media Marketing Manager
- Steve Motew, MD, Chief, Clinical Enterprise
- Toni Ardabell, Chief Clinical Enterprise Operations
- Karen Berube, Vice President of Population Health
- Maruf Haider,MD, Chief Health Informatics Officer
- Andrew Miner, MD, Associate Chief Health Informatics Officer
- Kenneth Geoly, MD, Informatics Epic Lead Physician
- Christopher O’Connor, MD, President of Inova Heart and Vascular Institute
- Linda Odorisio, Inova Physician Communications
- Christopher Defilippi, MD, Vice Chairman, Academic Affairs at IHVI
- Eugenie Charles, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Loudoun Hospital
- Alejandro Muzio, Director of Language and Disability
- George Maxwell, MD, President Women’s Services Inova Health System