This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released alarming data on COVID-19 vaccine uptake among some healthcare workers.
Fewer than 40% of staffers across 11,400 skilled nursing facilities chose to get the vaccine in December and January.
That’s a big problem. Front-line workers are among those at highest risk of contracting the coronavirus. By holding off on getting the vaccine, they’re risking the health of the people they serve. And because they’re often first in line, their hesitancy could sow unwarranted doubt about the vaccine in the minds of the public too.
Getting healthcare workers vaccinated is crucial to achieving herd immunity. But hectoring them is unlikely to change their minds. Instead, public health leaders must educate them about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy — and then invite them to opt for the vaccine independently.
Consider the experience of a medical center in South Dakota, where less than half the staff originally wanted the vaccine. In hopes of boosting that number, hospital management sat down with employees to answer questions and address concerns about the vaccine. After those discussions, the uptake rate increased to 76%.
This thoughtful, empathetic approach has worked during past public health crises, too. When U.S. measles cases tripled from 2013 to 2014, UCLA and University of Illinois psychologists set out to find a way to convince skeptical parents to vaccinate their children against the disease. They found that explaining the positive reasons to vaccinate, rather than trying to counter arguments against the vaccine, was more effective at increasing parent support for vaccination.
Vaccines won’t help end this pandemic if people won’t take them. We must find effective ways to overcome vaccine hesitancy — especially among our nation’s healthcare professionals.
Sally C. Pipes is the president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Healthcare Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.