Health workers are among those hesitant about the COVID vaccine. Here’s how we can safely support them


Given the caring nature of their profession, the general public might assume that there is no hesitation about vaccines among health workers. It may surprise (and anger) the community when health workers protest the introduction of COVID vaccination warrants.

In France, approximately 3,000 health workers were suspended because they were not vaccinated. In Greece, health workers have protested against compulsory vaccination plans. Similar scenes have played in Canada and New York State.

In Australia, health workers have reportedly joined the protests in Melbourne and Perth. A small number of unvaccinated staff are hard Vaccination warrants in the NSW Supreme Court. Beyond the hospital sector, there are reports staff members leaving the elderly care sector following the establishment of mandates.

The reluctance of health workers largely reflects the concerns of the community at large. But the risks of not getting vaccinated in healthcare facilities mean we need to recognize these concerns and support informed decision-making.

Read more: ‘Living with COVID’ looks a lot different for frontline health workers, who are already exhausted

A range of concerns

More than 90% of health workers in NSW and Victoria have received a COVID vaccine. But there is still a small percentage of people working in hospitals and other clinical settings who are reluctant to get vaccinated or want to choose which vaccine they get. New South Wales health figures suggest that currently about 7% (or 7,350 staff) are still unvaccinated.

Globally, prevalence of reluctance to COVID vaccination among health workers ranges from 4.3 to 72% (23% on average).

Tumut paramedic John Larter wants to work without being vaccinated.
AAP Image / Provided by John Larter

In the USA, one in four hospital employees in direct contact with patients had not received a single dose of COVID vaccine as of the end of May.

A study carried out in the first months of this year find while most health workers intended to accept a COVID vaccine, 22% were not sure or did not intend to vaccinate. These findings were consistent with a to study in Italy who found that 33% of health workers were unsure or did not intend to vaccinate.

The the three main reasons for health workers to be hesitant echo the same concerns expressed by some in the wider community: the safety, efficacy and side effects of vaccines.

Earlier surveys abroad showed that less than a third of health workers felt they had enough information about COVID vaccines. And, just like the community at large, health workers are vulnerable to misinformation and sometimes have insufficient understanding of how vaccines are developed.

A group that identified themselves as health workers staged a peaceful protest in Melbourne.

The risks

While inpatients are more likely to be the cause of COVID outbreaks in hospitals, unvaccinated healthcare workers and elderly people still pose a risk to the safety of patients and residents. The transmission of COVID to or between unvaccinated health workers poses a risk to the wider community, including their families and friends.

Beyond the risk of transmission, there is also the impact that vaccine-hesitant health workers have on greater confidence in vaccination. Health workers are seen as credible sources of information and are trusted by the community.

There are videos on social media, YouTube, and TikTok of individual health workers talking about COVID vaccines, often repeating misinformation about vaccine safety or effectiveness, or expressing uncertainties. The potential impact of these viral videos may be increased compared to those featuring speakers who do not work in the health professions. University of Washington researcher Rachel Moran, who examines disinformation on the Internet, says these health workers are

leverage the credibility of healthcare professionals to create a false impression that there is considerable debate about COVID vaccines among doctors and nurses when in reality there is a consensus on their effectiveness and safety.

Crowd of protesters
In New York City, crowds rallied last week against city-wide COVID vaccine warrants for public school teachers and statewide warrants for healthcare workers.

Read more: “Are you doubly dosed?” How to ask friends and family if they are vaccinated and what to do if they say no

How can we all stay safe?

Going forward, we need to recognize three things about health workers and vaccine reluctance:

1. Don’t judge

While there is a moral imperative and duty of care for health workers to receive the COVID vaccine, we must ensure that unvaccinated staff members have the opportunity to discuss vaccines without being judgmental.

As with the general public, we need to find out who health workers trust and connect them with reliable resources to allay their fears. This can be done through hospital websites, discussions with their primary health care providers, or factual information.

2. Determine what works

Unlike the community setting, there has been a lack of funding to develop and test resources and interventions focused on supporting immunization of health workers and the elderly.

Understanding the specific strategies that work to support vaccine uptake, without having to jump straight to mandates, is important not only from a patient safety perspective, but also from a health and safety perspective. job.

These results are relevant for COVID and other occupational vaccination programs.

3. Ensure supply and access

Before introducing a mandate, there must be an adequate supply and equitable access to vaccines. We need to make sure that people have the opportunity to look at the data on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and to get vaccinated voluntarily.

Careful planning, consultation and communication with key groups can improve the acceptability of mandates.

In the coming weeks, more health workers are likely to resign or be fired for failing to meet COVID mandates. There will be those on social media who call the situation a “good decision”. But some health workers will speak out in private or in public on the issue and cast doubt on the vaccine. It is important that we prepare for these situations, especially in regional areas where there may be less voice and greater trust in long-term health workers.

Read more: The 9 psychological barriers that lead to hesitation and refusal of the COVID-19 vaccine

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