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Vaccine hesitancy as an opportunity for engagement: A rapid qualitative study of patients and employees in the U.S. Veterans Affairs healthcare system.

Elwy AR, Clayman ML, LoBrutto L, Miano D, Ann Petrakis B, Javier S, Erhardt T, Midboe AM, Carbonaro R, Jasuja GK, Maguire EM, Kyrish A, Asch SM, Gifford AL, McInnes DK. Vaccine hesitancy as an opportunity for engagement: A rapid qualitative study of patients and employees in the U.S. Veterans Affairs healthcare system. Vaccine: X. 2021 Dec 1; 9(1):100116.

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Although COVID-19 vaccines have been available to many U.S. Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system employees and Veteran patients since early 2021, vaccine receipt data indicates some groups are not receiving them. Our objective was to conduct a rapid qualitative assessment of Veterans' and VA employees' views on COVID-19 vaccination to inform clinical leaders' ongoing efforts to increase vaccine uptake across the VA. We employed semi-structured interviews and a focus group involving employees and Veterans as part of a quality improvement project between January and June 2021 at three VA medical centers. Thirty-one employees and 27 Veterans participated in semi-structured interviews; 5 Veterans from a national stakeholder organization participated in a focus group. Data were analyzed using directed content analysis, involving an coding framework comprised of four domains with subcodes under each: contextual influences, barriers and facilitators, vaccine-specific issues, and VA/military experiences. We then classified initial codes into five categories of hesitancy: vaccine deliberation, dissent, distrust, indifference and skepticism. A subset of Veterans (n  =  14) and employees (n  =  8) identified as vaccine hesitant. Vaccine hesitancy categories were represented by subcodes of religion, culture, gender or socio-economic factors, perceptions of politics and policies, role of healthcare providers, and historical influences; (contextual influences); knowledge or awareness of vaccines, perceived susceptibility to COVID-19, and beliefs and attitudes about health and illness (barriers and facilitators); vaccine development process (vaccine-specific issues) and military experiences (VA/military factors). Facilitators involved talking with trusted others, ease of vaccine access, and perceptions of family and societal benefits of vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy is multi-faceted and likely requires multiple strategies for engaging in conversations to address Veteran and VA employee concerns. Messages should involve patient-centered communication strategies delivered by trusted healthcare providers and peers and should focus on addressing expected benefits for family, friends, and society.

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