As I write this in mid-January 2021, I wonder which is more in demand right now? A COVID-19 vaccine or a Clubhouse invitation? Both are hard to get, and only a few folks qualify.
The COVID-19 vaccine, many believe, is crucial to stop the pandemic and return to normal. Currently, in North Carolina, only front-line health care providers, long term care residents, and those over 65 are eligible to receive it. However, getting it is the next challenge.
The Clubhouse is a new social media platform where you need an invitation from a member to join. The catch is that those invitations are limited. The novelty is creating curiosity.
For those already vaccinated, perhaps it is a different answer, but I want the vaccine and so do many of my patients!
I have started the vaccine series, but I was a little behind my peers because I was on a sabbatical from clinical practice when they first rolled out. I understand the urge to start the process as soon as possible because I do not want to miss out and suffer consequences. There is a lot on the line!
Emotions are high with frustration, fear, and concerns of fairness. Doctors want to protect patients. I saw tons of angst these last two weeks as we have navigated this process.
Currently, the vaccine is an EXCLUSIVE commodity. How can we leverage our skills to address some of the limitations surrounding this vaccine?
My state recommends the three “W”s as ways to halt the spread of COVID-19 (Wash your hands, Wait six feet, and Wear a mask).
In the same vein, I suggest the three “C”s to manage the challenges around this EXCLUSIVE vaccine: Compassion, Communication, and Collaboration.
Start with recognizing we have wants. We have high expectations of the care we provide, and we want it to be ideal all the time. We want to have all the information for our patients right now and not wait for it. We want to have control. We want to be right and fair.
We are doing the best we can with what we have right now, but we want to do better. Brene Brown often describes the “FFT”- “F—-g First Time” and that is where we are. We should give ourselves compassion because we are not in charge of the timeline, and it is being created as we go. This lack of control and confusion about the next step makes uncomfortable feelings we need to acknowledge.
It is hard to keep up to date with a continually changing directive. It is challenging to be in two places at one time. I see doctors balancing addressing care for the individual in front of them with scanning for messages that also affect all those outside of the exam room. You cannot send updates electronically to all your patients about new criteria for the vaccine while also giving your in-office patient your focused attention.
This week I saw thoughtful and conscientious physicians struggle at the changing situation mostly because of the inability to notify their patients as quickly as they would like and the lack of a consistent, solid plan. We are merely responding to a changing circumstance, and we are not in control.
First, constructively communicate with your colleagues so that we keep this needed compassion. Create a united force.
Second, communicate with the patients in your practice in a caring way. Create and distribute clear, concise, empathetic, and frequent messages. Acknowledge their experience and feelings in this process and address some of the common concerns: scarcity of doses, barriers to scheduling, safety of the vaccine, and misinformation.
Communicate that this is a work in progress and that it will be modified many times. Emphasize that many of the specifics are out of our control but that we care. Concentrate on what we can control and cultivate the relationship with your patient during this time.
Patients will be getting updates from many places other than us- news media, social media, and friends/family. We may not be able to provide minute to minute data, but we can give them valuable information. Although this is a situation where many of them are excluded based on the current criteria, they will feel included because of the knowledge they will receive from us.
Interesting distribution conversations are happening. Health systems, corporations, and facilities are collaborating to increase the COVID 19 vaccination capacity. In North Carolina, one such collaboration focuses on getting it to traditionally marginalized communities as part of their mission. These partnerships will provide funding and community encouragement as well.
There will be a continuous supply of vaccines from manufacturers. The federal and state governments will continue to distribute the vials. Vaccines will be given around the clock in some locations. They will be administered in pro-sports arenas and other large venues to increase access. Local governments have been creative in staffing these events- my hometown health department has recruited and trained the school nurses to aid in the process.
What would work in your community? There is significant variability in the percentage of individuals vaccinated per state. How can we learn from each other and try to replicate what is working well?
We are in a time where many are calling for inclusivity in our country to erase the division and the disparities that exist between the wealthy and the needy, the sexes, the races, and the political parties.
I am curious. Can we pull together to distribute this EXCLUSIVE critical vaccine and, by doing so, start the groundwork for a more INCLUSIVE society?
Can we use this experience to create the compassion, communication, and collaborations needed to do just this on a larger scale?
Can all Americans be part of a real-world clubhouse where all are invited to participate and benefit?
Marion Mull McCrary MD FACP is a practicing primary care internist in North Carolina. She works with both physicians and non-physicians as a certified integrative health and wellness coach. She is also a Women in White Coats Fellow. Her website is http://www.marion-wellness.com, and she can be followed on Instagram and Facebook at marionmccrarywellness.