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”Do as I do, AND as I say.”

That might as well be the motto of healthcare’s efforts to guide the U.S. population towards rapid adoption of a COVID-19 vaccine.

With doses about to arrive, common sense would suggest that hospitals and health systems prioritize vaccinating frontline workers in direct patient care roles before healthcare industry leaders and administrators working from their guestrooms or offices.

Or does it?

Though many Americans are anxious to be inoculated, many are skeptical – including healthcare workers. We’ve heard this firsthand from our clients, and a recent survey found that 67 percent of healthcare workers intend to delay vaccination. Asked if they would volunteer for a COVID-19 vaccine, two out of three nurses polled by the American Nurses Association poll said “no” or “unsure.” So, it’s a tough sell. Allowing someone to move to the front of the line does no good if they don’t accept the invitation.

The solution might just be to find someone else to go first.

Last week, three former U.S. presidents announced they would take the coronavirus vaccine on live television to inspire public confidence in the immunization. Healthcare system presidents should consider doing the same for their people. If health systems are encouraging caregivers to take the vaccine, there’s no better way for their leaders to communicate confidence in the science and reassure their team of vaccine safety and efficacy than by taking a vaccine themselves.

Otherwise, the risk is caregivers asking their executives: “Well, if you won’t get it, why should I?”

As doses are shipped, health systems grappling with a reluctant workforce should weigh the potential benefits of a similar gesture. How to go about this?

  • Identify your organization’s most trusted leaders related to the pandemic. Is it your CEO? Your chief medical officer? Your chief nursing officer? Your infectious disease experts? Would trusted leaders receiving the vaccine inspire confidence in your clinical workers?
  • Develop an effective communication strategy. How might you communicate this step? Perhaps a memo or a video message from leadership would be effective.
  • Weigh the implications. If you receive severely limited doses of the vaccine and are seeing high demand among your clinical workforce, would it send the wrong message to allot any of these to non-clinical roles?
  • Continue to set an example in other ways. Even if your system decides not to provide the vaccine for key leaders, leaders should serve as role models for how your team should behave in other ways, like continuing to wear a mask, wash hands and practice physical distancing.

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