CINCINNATI — Doctors at UC Health are utilizing emergency rooms to get underserved and vaccine-hesitant people vaccinated against COVID-19.
"Some patients don't have a reason why they don't want the vaccine. They just don't want the vaccine,” said Dr. Dustin Calhoun, medical director for emergency management at UC Health.
At the ER and in-patient facilities at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in Clifton and UC Health West Chester Hospital, the effort to vaccinate patients has been going on for almost a month.
Calhoun said many of the people who seek medical treatment at these ERs tend to come there for primary care, and most of them aren’t already vaccinated against COVID-19. In some cases, ER visits are the only medical treatment underserved people encounter.
"So it's the perfect place from that perspective,” he said. “Obviously there are drawbacks. You would not typically want to be vaccinating someone as they're being admitted to the hospital."
The hospital has shifted their strategy and now targets people closer to discharge. Stable patients get visits from UC Health ambassadors, nurses, pharmacists and doctors who gauge their interest in the vaccine and answer questions.
"We know that at least some portion of vaccine hesitancy is around lack of knowledge and not having had someone that they can trust to answer those questions about why it is so safe and why it is so beneficial,” Calhoun said.
When he’s able to really get through to a patient and change their mind about the vaccine, Calhoun said it’s been one of the most rewarding moments of his career.
But it can be hit or miss.
"I had one shift where every single patient that I approached I was able to give them the information they needed to relieve their concerns and vaccinated every patient that I approached,” Calhoun said. “The next shift that I had, it was actually four hours longer. I didn't manage to convince a single person."
The hospital is trying to give patients the Johnson & Johnson shot as much as possible because it doesn’t require a follow-up, but even that has challenges because many of those doses are set to expire over the next two weeks. The alternative is offering patients a second dose appointment at one of the UC campus walk-in clinics.
Even with the challenges and the skeptics, Calhoun remains hopeful.
"Taking a patient who was concerned about it, who was legitimately scared of COVID and scared of the vaccine, and being able to help them reconcile that is one of the most rewarding things I've ever been able to experience,” Calhoun said.