Backgrounder/Analysis: Aging Services Providers Address Immunization Acceptance; Public Education Efforts Must be Stepped Up

PRESS RELEASE | January 15, 2021 | by Lisa Sanders

“A variety of vital education efforts are underway in long-term care.”

Contact: Lisa Sanders 202-508-9407

January 15, 2021 Washington, DC—After many long months, COVID-19 vaccines are finally available—and for many who have received immunization, this is a time of hope. Tested in clinical trials, and endorsed as safe and effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and leading medical authorities and scientists in the U.S. and around the world, vaccines are our best tool yet to protect older adults and their care workers from COVID-19.

Yet, for a variety of reasons, millions of Americans, including workers and every part of the health care sector, are initially “vaccine hesitant.” A December survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggested that 29% of all health care workers are hesitant to get vaccinated. Staff working in long-term care are no exception.

The entire healthcare community is working to encourage older adults and frontline workers, who have been risking their lives every day for almost a year to protect older Americans from COVID, to take the vaccine. Already, the federal, state and local governments, and organizations across the country are working hard to get the word out about the safety and efficacy of vaccines—and public education efforts must be stepped up.

“Long-term care providers are doing their part too, educating residents, clients, families and employees about the benefits of vaccination. But we cannot do it alone,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO, LeadingAge, the association of nonprofit providers of aging services. “Everyone has a role to play in ensuring that vaccines are understood and accepted, making our communities healthy and safe.”

New LeadingAge Survey of Care Provider Efforts

In a recent informal survey of LeadingAge members, 99.98% of respondents shared at least one type of education they are conducting to inform staff, residents, and clients about the vaccine, including sending out letters, distributing handouts, posting information, and holding meetings and webinars.

Education activities noted to be most effective include:

  • Q&A or town halls with providers’ medical directors and other health or vaccine experts
  • One-on-one or small group discussions with hesitant older adults or staff
  • Providing information and facts about trials and vaccine outcomes to-date
  • Leaders and trusted colleagues sharing their experience of taking the vaccine
  • Using a mix of tools and activities together to repeat and reinforce information

Vaccinations are well-underway in long-term care, and over 70% of eligible LeadingAge members report that they have held at least one vaccination clinic as part of the Pharmacy Partnership Program. Confidence is growing that the second and third clinics will increase the number of staff vaccinations.

Because the reasons for vaccine hesitancy are many and varied, LeadingAge and care providers know that there is no miraculous fix to ensuring widespread uptake. Each concern must be understood and addressed. We need to provide facts to counter the misinformation that is spreading about the negative health consequences of the vaccine. We need to acknowledge the experience of Black people with systemic racism in the medical community, and recognize the newness of the vaccines and fear of side effects.

LeadingAge has created a go-to hub for its more than 5,000 mission-driven members, where we collect tools, information and best practices about easing vaccine hesitancy. We also host Coronavirus Policy Update calls several times a week for providers to exchange information, and talk with experts like the U.S. Surgeon General, and CVS and Walgreen executives.

Examples of Long-term Care Providers Combatting Vaccine Hesitancy

  • St. Paul Elder Services (Kaukauna, WI): St. Paul has been holding virtual town halls for staff and families of residents to provide clear and detailed information, share experiences from nearby facilities, and answer questions about vaccine safety and effectiveness. To highlight the vaccine’s importance, the center’s assistant director of nursing (who is currently battling cancer) was among the first staff vaccinated.
  • Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation (Commack, NY): An oversized video display runs 24/7 in Gurwin’s lobby, featuring the CEO and key staff talking about the importance of vaccination (and including a Spanish-speaking staffer encouraging their Spanish-speaking co-workers to take the vaccine). An in-house social media platform provides updates to employees.
  • Jewish Home Family (Rockleigh, NJ): Leadership and medical staff visited all departments and units to address concerns and foster social encouragement to take the vaccine. Text messages were sent to staff with short videos of fellow staff giving their reasons and hopes for the future, as well as shorter tik-tok length Q&A clips addressing common concerns. Staff were given bright orange “I got my COVID-19 Vaccine” pins to wear after the first clinic. Staff photographers assisted with vax selfies to maximize social media exposure to encourage a network effect of vaccine adoption.
  • Messiah Lifeways (Mechanicsburg, PA): Before first clinic on Jan. 2, Messiah Lifeways created educational materials with information from trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, hosted virtual Q and A call with all managers led by director of nursing and assistant director of nursing.
  • Well•Spring, A Life Plan Community (Greensboro, NC): Well•Spring’s CEO, Infection Preventionist and frontline team members were featured in the State of North Carolina’s public service campaign, YourSpotYourShot (:90 second ad here). The CEO holds a weekly, in-house TV program called “Updates With Steve,” which features the latest COVID news and spotlights guests such as residents who are retired physicians who share their expertise on the vaccine and virus in general. The first staff to receive the vaccine were photographed, and these images are used to help build confidence among peers about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
  • Sunnyside Communities (Harrisonburg, VA): Held a dozen Zoom educational sessions for staff in recent weeks, in addition to holding small group and 1:1 educational chats. Surveyed staff to understand their questions and concerns, then tailored discussions to address those topics. Used social media platforms to promote getting vaccines, and shared photos of staff getting vaccinated.
About LeadingAge:

We represent more than 5,000 nonprofit aging services providers and other mission-minded organizations that touch millions of lives every day. Alongside our members and 38 state partners, we use applied research, advocacy, education, and community-building to make America a better place to grow old. Our membership encompasses the entire continuum of aging and disability services. We bring together the most inventive minds in the field to lead and innovate solutions that support older adults wherever they call home. For more information visit