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A series of virtual town hall meetings between leading nursing home researchers and skilled nursing facility care providers revealed the impact of misinformation on COVID-19 vaccine fears. Having conversations rather than sharing data may be the ideal way for facility leaders to allay workers’ concerns, the investigators conclude.

Skilled nursing facilities from four corporations were invited to send opinion leaders and “outspoken staff” from nursing, nurse aide, dietary, housekeeping or recreational therapy to the virtual meetings. Leading long-term care industry advocate David Gifford, M.D., MPH, and colleagues conducted 26 one-hour events with the 193 staff members who agreed to participate, representing 50 facilities. The meetings occurred in December and January.

Most participants said they received vaccine information from friends or social media, and misinformation was common, investigators said. The most frequently voiced concerns were about the speed of vaccine development, and infertility- and pregnancy-related harms. Many participating care providers had questions about how a vaccination would affect their ability to return to prior activities. There were no differences between the provider disciplines in the concerns raised. 

The meetings offered the opportunity to build on positive emotions to reduce vaccine hesitancy, Gifford and his colleagues said. For example, staff often talked or asked about how soon they could hug their residents or travel to see family members. And many who were vaccinated said that they were convinced to get a shot when considering the benefits vaccination would have on residents or family.

Research suggests that it is “equally if not more important to address positive emotions” — such as altruism and hope — as it is negative emotions such as combating fear and anxiety when addressing vaccine hesitancy, investigators noted.

“We discouraged staff from using guilt or shame to promote vaccine uptake,” they said.

It is also important that conversations occur among a diverse group, they added. The U.S. SNF workforce is predominantly female but racially diverse, with a makeup that is 28% Black, 15% Latinx and 6% Asian, Gifford wrote. Black, indigenous, and people of color overall have generally been more reluctant to get vaccinated, but “early experience from vaccine rollout suggests people are more accepting of the message when delivered by someone like them,” he noted.

In addition, physicians consistently stand out as the top trusted sources to learn about the COVID-19 vaccine, he added.

“Sharing positive emotions and stories in a town hall meeting format may be more effective than sharing data when attempting to reduce vaccine hesitancy in skilled nursing facilities,” the authors concluded.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.