Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

U.S.|Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

What worked and what didn’t when trying to inoculate reluctant nursing home staff.

Jonathan Wolfe


Credit…The New York Times

The U.S. is quickly approaching the moment when the supply of vaccines will outpace demand, and efforts to convince vaccine skeptics will soon need to be ramped up. So far, there’s no playbook on how best to do this.

Abby Goodnough, who covers health care, discovered this firsthand while tracking the vaccination campaign at the Forest Hills nursing home in Washington D.C. I spoke to Abby about what worked and what didn’t when trying to inoculate reluctant nursing home staff, which is largely made up of Black workers, including immigrants from African countries.

What were some of the reasons people gave for not wanting a vaccine?

It was mostly just fear. And that’s not to minimize it because their fear was real, and considerable, and understandable on many levels. It was a brand-new vaccine, and some of them had little exposure to vaccines, certainly as adults.

A couple of people felt that it went against their faith to get the vaccine or read into some biblical passages that suggested getting a vaccine was not a good step for religious purposes. I also heard from some of the nursing leadership that some employees, particularly people of color, feared that the government was not looking out for their best interests and might actually be looking to harm them.

How did the nursing home approach the vaccine skeptics?

At first, Tina Sandri, the chief executive of the nursing home, really leaned heavily on Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser on Covid-19, and Kizzmekia Corbett, an African-American scientist who helped develop the Moderna vaccine. Tina showed videos of them and other high-profile scientists explaining the vaccines and answering questions related to fears people had. But she found that sort of science-heavy conversation only went so far.

Were there other approaches that worked better?

Yes. One-on-one conversations either with her or somebody else that people trusted. She figured out who each reluctant person trusted the most. Then she arranged for those people to have really personal, intimate conversations about their concerns.

She also listened and let people talk. She found that letting people talk about their fears, and listening in a nonjudgmental way, was one of the most important things she could do to help address their fears.

What did employees say changed their minds?

There were lots of reasons. Deborah Childs worked in payroll and she was really receptive to Dr. Fauci. For Mariah Proctor, a security guard, I think the conversations with Tina went a long way to putting her more at ease. And for a lot of the others, I think it was the passage of time, and watching as people who had taken the vaccine went on with their lives and nothing horrible happened to them.

Also, showing them the results. After four deaths and a couple of dozen infections at the nursing home over the course of the last year, to have that really just stop suddenly for the most part was the best evidence that vaccinations were important and that they work.

Even so, there are still a few dozen employees who have not taken the vaccine, and it’s going to be an ongoing process.

What are the lessons we can learn from Forest Hills?

Don’t try to push vaccination too quickly; understand that it’s going to take some time for some people to get comfortable with the idea. And another lesson that Tina would feel strongly about is not to be judgmental, or dismissive, or mocking about people’s fears. Empathize with them and gently provide accurate information whenever you see a chance.

Chile’s fast inoculation rollout leaves it poised to be among the first countries in the world to reach herd immunity — more than one-third of its population has received at least one vaccine dose. Yet the country is in the throes of a record-breaking surge of infections and deaths, and its health care system is overwhelmed.

Pascale Bonnefoy and Ernesto Londoño write that the speedy and efficient vaccination drive has been part of the problem. It gave Chileans a false sense of security, and the government moved too quickly to reopen its borders and ease restrictions on businesses.

Facing the deadly new surge, the country has put in a new set of strict lockdown measures for nearly 14 million people. The country serves as a cautionary tale for other nations looking to vaccination drives to quickly put an end to the era of sluggish economies and social distancing.

A is for absolutely nothing getting done.

B is for boredom.

C is for the covidiots.

D is for “doing our best.”

E is for extra time at home.

F is for my father who died without a visit from me.

G is for grim milestones.

H is for heart-heavy numbers.

I is for inoculation, a word misused.

J is for Jack in the Box drive-through, the only place we eat out now.

K is for knowing someone who died of Covid.

L is for living simply.

M is for meals at home.

N is for never going out unmasked.

O is for outdoor eating in the cold.

P is for pandemic.

Q is for quirky Zoom weddings and funerals.

R is for relatives who don’t understand my fear.

S is for sick and tired of this.

T is for ticking time bomb.

U is for unprecedented.

V is for vaccines versus variants.

W is for wanting my shot.

X is for X-rays of Covid lungs.

Y is for yelling at strangers who get too close.

Z is for zoonotic.

— Margaret “Page” Kakowski, Portland, Ore.

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Jonathan Wolfe