Health workers play a critical role in positively influencing vaccine acceptance and uptake. In many countries, they are among the most trusted figures, leading by example and encouraging patients to accept vaccines, including for COVID-19. The way they communicate with patients is key and can have a positive influence on the choices patients make.
In Romania, a series of online training courses, piloted by WHO/Europe in February 2021, were aimed at developing interpersonal communication skills among primary health workers. Doctors and nurses are advised on how to deliver essential information about lifesaving COVID-19 vaccinations.
The aim of the initiative is to equip health workers with new approaches to address patient concerns during medical consultations, and to encourage healthy choices. To date, over 30 family doctors and nurses have received this training, which is the first of its kind in the country.
Supporting COVID-19 vaccine administrators and advocates
Health workers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of caring for those with the disease, and in delivering new COVID-19 vaccines. Prioritization efforts and investments are needed to ensure health workers are well prepared for their role. To support them as COVID-19 vaccine administrators and advocates, WHO/Europe developed a comprehensive training and resource package entitled “Communicating with patients about COVID-19 vaccination”.
“The training was a valuable opportunity to access theoretical information and practical strategies”, said Ms Alina Negraru of the Romanian Association for Health Promotion, who participated in the course. “I am happy to have participated in this complex, interactive and motivational course. The session was very engaging”, added Ms Carmen Mazilu, a nurse who also attended the training.
UNICEF and members of the Steering Advisory Board, a technical body set up to pilot the project in Romania, co-led implementation of the course. Representatives from the National Society of Family Medicine (SNMF), the Institute for Mother and Child Care (IOMC), the Order of Nurses, Midwives and Medical Assistants (OAMMR), the Romanian Association for Health Promotion (ARPS), the Center for Health Policies and Services (CPSS), the Ministry of Health and the National Institute of Public Health took part in the first training session. It was also attended by national vaccination champions, including Dr Gindrovel Dumitra, Dr Sandra Alexiu, Dr Mihai Craiu and Dr Cosmina Berbecel.
Addressing vaccine acceptance and demand
Among the approaches covered by the course, the participants learned the key principles of how to communicate with vaccine-hesitant individuals. These included listening and engaging in positive conversations to build trust, and effectively responding to concerns regarding vaccine safety and effectiveness. In the context of COVID-19 vaccination, concerns can also relate to the prioritization of certain groups, delays in gaining access to vaccines, differences between vaccines and the need for continued personal protective measures following vaccination.
The COVID-19 Vaccination Patient Communication Algorithm was also introduced during the course. The algorithm begins by determining where the patient is on the vaccine acceptance continuum. The health worker then follows the appropriate conversation pathway using evidence-based interpersonal communication techniques tailored to patient responses. The WHO Country Office in Romania plans to make this algorithm available to health workers across the country in various languages through a mobile application.
The contributions made by the participants in the pilot training in Romania will now feed into upcoming courses on interpersonal communication about COVID-19 vaccination in other countries. Based on the collective feedback, the training and its accompanying tools will be adapted and made available to all Member States of the WHO European Region.