Study results show COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy among health care workers

A survey of health care workers at UI Health, Rush University Medical Center and Advocate Aurora Health found that, a year into the pandemic, 15% remained hesitant about getting their COVID-19 vaccinations.

The remaining 85% of those who completed the survey, which was emailed between March and May, reported they had either received the vaccine or anticipated getting vaccinated.

The study, co-authored by Eric Swirsky, BHIS clinical associate professor, found that health care workers who said they were vaccine-hesitant tended to be younger, non-physicians, Black, Republican, or had concerns about the vaccine’s effect on their bodies. Some cited insufficient evidence for the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“There’s more than politics at play in vaccine hesitancy,” Swirsky said.

“We need to gain a better understanding of why health care workers are hesitant. How can we expect other populations to get vaccinated when health care workers aren’t?”

Researchers analyzed the results from 1,974 respondents, who included physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, administrative and clerical staff, and technicians. They were asked to provide sociodemographic information, including political affiliations and occupation. Other questions concerned their perceived susceptibility to COVID, barriers to getting vaccinated, and the benefits of vaccination. They were asked about internal and external factors that would affect their decision to get vaccinated.

The results showed that vaccine decisions were more likely to be influenced by colleagues than by mass media marketing campaigns.

“Respondents said they were more likely to be influenced by people they know—friends, colleagues, supervisors—who were vaccinated, and who thought it was important that they get vaccinated, too,” Swirsky said.

Although vaccine mandates are important for public health, the mandates can create further mistrust among people who are hesitant, he added.

“It’s important to listen to the reasons why people are hesitant, so we can tailor messaging for better communication. Moreover, we need to be more inclusive and deliberate in outreach; local political and community leaders need to be the champions for vaccination, not only politicians and scientists at national levels.”

The study concluded that “Rather than focusing on generalized, impersonal outreach advertisements from hospital administration or the mainstream media, hospitals should work internally to foster relationships and trust-building among employees across departments and job roles.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

Stephanie Toth-Manikowski, assistant professor of medicine in the College of Medicine, was the author. Other co-authors were Rupali Gandhi, Advocate Children’s Hospital Oak Lawn, and Gina Piscitello, Rush University.