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Hello, my name is Gabrielle Streeter and I will be presenting on anti-COVID-19 vaccine sentiment in North Carolina healthcare workers. My background in logistics and population health has piqued my interest in the COVID vaccine rollout. COVID has invaded every corner of the world and has killed over 540,000 Americans. In December, Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines were granted Emergency Use Authorization in the United States, followed by Johnson and Johnson’s in March. Although vaccine acceptance numbers have been increasing, a February PEW Research Center survey showed that 31% of Americans do not plan to get a COVID vaccine (Funk & Tyson, 2021, para. 4). The speed of development, fear of undisclosed ingredients or long-term effects, as well as worry of the vaccine side effects, have led to vaccine hesitancy in the United States (Seladi-Schulman, 2021). Despite awareness of anti-COVID-19 vaccine sentiment in the general population, there is little discussion about healthcare workers who are refusing their shot. Due to higher rates of COVID exposure, it is imperative for healthcare workers to have high inoculation rates to protect both themselves and the public from infection and death. Although healthcare workers usually have a better understanding of infection than the general population, they are not immune from vaccine misinformation or hesitancy. Healthcare worker demographics for refusing the COVID vaccine mirror those of the general public (Shekhar et al., 2021, p. 12). However, the main reasons healthcare workers refuse the vaccine are related to the data and long-term vaccine effects (Roy et al., 2020, p. 3). Promoting COVID vaccines in a creative, informative, and multicultural fashion may help minimize healthcare worker vaccine refusal. 

Despite their medical background, North Carolina healthcare worker’s COVID vaccine acceptance rates are not significantly different from the general public (Elon University, 2020; Ingersoll, 2021). However, a much larger percent of healthcare workers would like to wait until more information is released before taking their shot – often referred to as the “wait and see” category (Hamel et al., 2021, para. 16). One study estimated that 8% of healthcare workers never plan to get the COVID vaccine, compared to 25% of the general public – illustrating that a large percent of healthcare workers are waiting for more vaccine information (Campanile, 2021; Shekhar et al., 2021, p. 1). Across the United States, vaccine acceptance is lowest among female, Black, Native American, and Hispanic healthcare workers (Shekhar et al., 2021, p. 6). Minorities make up the majority of the “wait and see” category and lag far behind on COVID vaccinations in North Carolina (Webber & Recht, 2021, paras. 6 & 33).

Medical workers’ race and gender play a major role in their vaccination decision. Generations of medical mistreatment and structural racism can help explain low vaccination rates in healthcare workers of color. The government-backed Tuskegee syphilis study, where black men with syphilis were deceived into thinking they were receiving treatment, is an example cited by many people of color who refused their vaccine (Weintraub, 2020, paras. 4-7). Latino and Black healthcare workers were more likely to have COVID antibodies than their colleagues working at the same organization – pointing to higher COVID exposure due to unmeasured structural and societal factors (Ebinger et al., 2021, pp. 1&7). It is known that COVID has disproportionately affected minority communities, and finding that healthcare providers of color were more likely to have antibodies makes it crucial that healthcare workers of color are being vaccinated at the same rates (Webber & Recht, 2021, para. 7). Rural, republican, and less educated populations were also less likely to accept the vaccine, likely due to higher rates of vaccine misinformation circulating and key public figures downplaying COVID and emphasizing potential safety concerns of the vaccine. Healthcare worker vaccine acceptance by race and gender almost exactly mirrors vaccine acceptance breakdowns in the general public (Shekhar et al., 2021, pp. 5&12).

While some COVID vaccine refusal reasons have more scientific backing than others, we have all heard Americans question if the COVID vaccine contains a microchip or other non-disclosed ingredients, if the vaccine may make women infertile, if the vaccine will alter your DNA or give you COVID, or believing the vaccine is unnecessary because the pandemic is exaggerated. A North Carolina survey showed government and healthcare mistrust, as well as vaccine safety and efficacy concerns, were high among those who refused the COVID vaccine, and almost one-fourth of Americans believe the CDC has intentionally exaggerated the seriousness of the virus (Romer & Jamieson, 2020, p.6; Doherty et al., 2021, p.10). Healthcare workers’ reasons for refusing the COVID vaccine are on average more scientifically backed. A Yale Medicine study identified top themes for vaccine hesitancy in healthcare workers, with some of the most common being lack of long-term vaccine data, lack of data on pregnant or breastfeeding women, and concern over safety or side effects (Roy et al., 2020, p. 3). For primary research, I surveyed ten North Carolina healthcare workers who either waited at least two months to get their vaccine or refused their COVID shot. Overall, the concerns were that the COVID vaccine was developed too quickly, the companies did not publish enough data to ensure safety for all, and the long-term effects of the vaccine are still unknown. One respondent did report fear of undisclosed ingredients, but aside from this result, none of the surveyed healthcare workers’ vaccine hesitancy was based in conspiracy. On average, healthcare worker’s vaccine hesitancy is more quantitatively and scientifically backed than the reasons of the public. 

In order to increase COVID vaccine acceptance, healthcare facilities need to provide employees with accessible and attention-grabbing information on how the vaccines were made, a breakdown of available data on vaccine safety and efficacy, and debunked COVID vaccine myths. Multiple North Carolina healthcare workers surveyed for primary research cited family and co-workers as a major reason for deciding to eventually take their COVID shot. Facilities should encourage employees to share their personal reasons for inoculation with co-workers, friends, and family. Vaccine photo areas, stickers or pins highlighting personal reasons for inoculation, and facility vaccine infomercials could improve healthcare worker vaccine uptake. 

Healthcare worker statistics on vaccine acceptance broken down by race, political association, education, and gender are very similar to the numbers of the general public (Shekhar et al., 2021, p. 12). A high percentage of healthcare workers want to wait and see how the vaccine works before taking it, illustrating a large population that is receptive to vaccine information shared by their coworkers or employers (Hamel et al., 2021, para. 16). Information shared by healthcare facilities has the potential to quell healthcare workers’ main concerns about vaccine safety, data, and health effects. Family and friends of healthcare workers, as well as the general public, look to healthcare workers for COVID vaccine information and confidence; achieving a high COVID vaccine acceptance rate within the healthcare community will be crucial to obtaining herd immunity through vaccinations. Thank you.




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