The Dilemma: No shot for me

dvm360dvm360 April 2021
Volume 54

What would you do if one or more of your staff members refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Mix and Match Studio /

Mix and Match Studio /

Creek Animal Hospital is a well-respected mid-sized animal practice in the northeastern United States. Like many veterinary hospitals across the nation, it has strictly enforced CDC guidelines and implemented curbside protocols to help maintain healthy staff, clients, and patients during the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Staff are double masked at all times and diligent about handwashing. Instead of sharing phones, they were assigned work cell phones for client and intraoffice communication. Although certainly not a perfect system, it protected the staff, maintained morale, and prevented the clinic from losing staff members.

After rigorously following these new protocols, the staff saw light at the end of the tunnel. In the clinic’s state, veterinarians and staff members were classified as essential health care workers in the “1B” category, granting them access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr Creek, the hospital owner, issued a staff memo alerting everyone about vaccine availability and encouraging them to get vaccinated. The message also assisted team members with advice on navigating the challenging scheduling procedures.

Most staff members were ecstatic about vaccination, but 3 opted against it. Creek was shocked. How could anyone not want this medical marvel? He was determined to find out why these select team members refused to be vaccinated.

Before approaching the staff members, he called a meeting with his 2 administrators to formulate a plan to address his concerns.

He decided to set up individual meetings to inquire why each staff member had opted against vaccination. He would also advise them that if their responses involved private medical information or spiritual or moral objections, he would not pursue any further explanation. Barring these reasons, he would strongly encourage them to get vaccinated for the good of their coworkers and staff morale.

The first staff member cited medical confidentiality and chose not to continue the conversation. The remaining 2 staff members expressed their distrust of the new vaccine and their desire not to proceed with immunization at this point. Creek encouraged them to consult their health care providers to further discuss their concerns. After these meetings, Creek had a decision to make.

He concluded that his staff’s attitude toward the COVID-19 vaccine mirrored that of much of the country, and that it was unrealistic for him to expect 100% vaccination compliance. The fact that the majority of his staff chose to be vaccinated would ultimately provide additional protection to the team.

Curbside care, masks, hand washing, and social distancing, when possible, would continue even after the staff had been vaccinated. Creek felt this approach would ultimately lead them out of the pandemic and back to normalcy. Do you agree with how Creek handled this situation? We would like to know.

Dr Rosenberg’s response

The situation described above occurs once every 100 years. Chaos, confusion, and fear are only a few of the many emotions encountered by our profession. Federal and state government health agencies have issued directives; some were better than others but all were well-intentioned. These directives ultimately acted as guidelines to help ensure that veterinary medicine is practiced safely. Creek, like many clinic administrators, had to consider his team’s concerns about vaccination. Perhaps, in the future, we may look back and criticize him and other veterinary clinic decision-makers. For now, we are winning the battle against a formidable viral enemy. As in the past, the veterinary profession will not accept defeat.

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