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Academic Centers with High Personnel Vaccination Rates Share Their Tips for Success

June 24, 2021
Cheerful female doctor asks question at medical seminar

University of Kentucky HealthCare, University of Utah Health, and University of Virginia Health System all boast employee vaccination rates of greater than 80%. Here’s how they did it.

As academic medical centers across the nation continue to encourage their health care personnel to get vaccinated against COVID-19, some centers with high vaccination rates are sharing their strategies for success. Each workplace has a unique culture to consider when figuring out how to navigate its employees’ sentiments toward vaccines. Adopting varied approaches that suit different institutional climates will be crucial in vaccinating all health care personnel.

Here are three strategies that can contribute to high vaccination rates among employees:

1. Build – and maintain – trust. (It’s never too late.)


Employees at University of Kentucky HealthCare (UK HealthCare), which had a 93% employee vaccination rate as of late May, were looped into COVID-19 mitigation efforts long before vaccines were available. Mark Newman, MD, UK HealthCare’s executive vice president for health affairs, began sending out a daily briefing to employees at the start of the pandemic with information such as the number of COVID-19-positive patients being cared for and how many were in the intensive care unit. UK HealthCare continued to share information about the institution’s response to the pandemic with all staff so everyone could feel vested in the outcome. This approach encouraged high numbers of employees to invest themselves in bringing an end to the pandemic once the vaccines became available, Newman says.

Under this umbrella strategy of inclusion, UK HealthCare also prioritized two-way communication to promote engagement between executives and personnel and build trust, says Mark Birdwhistell, MPA, UK HealthCare’s vice president for health system administration and chief of staff.

Part of that two-way communication involved hosting town hall meetings for all personnel.  During town halls, which studies show are an effective way to address employees’ concerns, team members used an anonymous texting app to encourage staff to submit questions for UK HealthCare leaders to address. Every question was answered in the town halls or included in the daily briefing and the FAQ page of UK HealthCare’s website.

“What we’ve tried to do — and continue to do — is develop trust and engage with [employees] and be transparent about what we’re doing and why,” Newman says.

2. Maximize convenience. (You know your staff is busy and stressed.)

In the first three months of the vaccine rollout, about 16,630 employees at the University of Utah Health got vaccinated — roughly 85% of the academic medical center’s personnel. Kavish Choudhary, PharmD, MS, senior director of inpatient and infusion pharmacy services at Utah Health, says a key strategy was extending vaccine clinic hours. The clinic was open 60 to 70 hours every week, starting early and staying open late to accommodate personnel coming on or off night shifts. Choudhary’s team adjusted the vaccine clinic’s staffing from week to week to reflect inventory and minimize wait times.

Utah Health also prioritized environmental services personnel — who are on the front lines of the pandemic ensuring safe and optimally sanitary hospital environments — in its first wave of vaccination efforts. Choudhary hosted a special clinic for this group, coordinating with environmental services leadership to guarantee clinic hours that were most convenient for their personnel, so everyone had easy access to vaccines.

Pop-up vaccine clinics and mobile vaccination carts are another way to maximize convenience for busy health care personnel by bringing the vaccines to them.

3. Encourage peer-to-peer engagement. (People will listen to their friends and co-workers.)

The University of Virginia Health System (UVA) is taking a grassroots approach to increase its employee vaccination rate, which was greater than 80% as of late May. The organization is pairing employees who may have concerns about the vaccines with vaccinated employees who can help them decide whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccinated employees are a diverse group of volunteers who receive training on the importance of listening and being nonjudgmental, as well as specific vaccine-related medical topics or literature that may be relevant to their peers. Unvaccinated employees can reach out through a dedicated email address to request being paired with a volunteer to speak with, and can even specify the race, ethnicity, gender, training, job type, and language of the volunteer. A systemwide communications effort is also underway to ensure everyone knows this program is available, which UVA hopes will encourage confidence in the vaccines.

“Increasing vaccine acceptance will always be important because even if vaccines are mandated for employees, people still need to have confidence in the vaccines,” says Josh Eby, MD, medical director of UVA Employee Health.