A focus on rebuilding trust
Survey respondents who agreed or strongly agreed that they would accept a vaccine were older (a mean age of 44 years), compared with those who were not sure or who disagreed (a mean age of 42 vs. 38 years, respectively; P less than .001). In addition, fewer females agreed or strongly agreed that they would accept a vaccine (54% vs. 73% of males), whereas those who self-identified as Black/African American were least likely to want to get vaccinated, compared with those from other ethnic groups (31%, compared with 74% of Asians, 58% of Whites, and 39% of American Indians or Alaska Natives).
“We are deeply aware of the poor decisions scientists made in the past, which led to a prevailing skepticism and ‘feeling like guinea pigs’ among people of color, especially Black adults,” Dr. Shaw said. “Black adults are less likely, compared [with] White adults, to have confidence that scientists act in the public interest. Rebuilding trust will take time and has to start with addressing health care disparities. In addition, we need to acknowledge contributions of Black researchers to science. For example, until recently very few knew that the Moderna vaccine was[with the help of] Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who is Black.”
The top five main areas of unease that all respondents expressed about a COVID-19 vaccine were concern about adverse events/side effects (47%), efficacy (15%), rushed release (11%), safety (11%), and the research and authorization process (3%).
“I think it is important that fellow clinicians recognize that, in order to boost vaccine confidence we will need careful, individually tailored communication strategies,” Dr. Shaw said. “A consideration should be given to those [strategies] that utilize interpersonal channels that deliver leadership by example and leverage influencers in the institution to encourage wider adoption of vaccination.”
Aaron M. Milstone, MD, MHS, asked to comment on the research, recommended that health care workers advocate for the vaccine and encourage their patients, friends, and loved ones to get vaccinated. “Soon, COVID-19 will have taken more than half a million lives in the U.S.,” said Dr. Milstone, a pediatric epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. “Although vaccines can have side effects like fever and muscle aches, and very, very rare more serious side effects, the risks of dying from COVID are much greater than the risk of a serious vaccine reaction. The study’s authors shed light on the ongoing need for leaders of all communities to support the COVID vaccines, not just the scientific community, but religious leaders, political leaders, and community leaders.”
Addressing vaccine hesitancy
Informed by their own survey, Dr. Shaw and her colleagues have developed a plan to address vaccine hesitancy to ensure high vaccine uptake at SUNY Upstate. Those strategies include, but aren’t limited to, institution-wide forums for all employees on COVID-19 vaccine safety, risks, and benefits followed by Q&A sessions, grand rounds for providers summarizing clinical trial data on mRNA vaccines, development of an Ask COVID email line for staff to ask vaccine-related questions, and a detailed vaccine-specific FAQ document.
In addition, SUNY Upstate experts have engaged in numerous media interviews to provide education and updates on the benefits of vaccination to public and staff, stationary vaccine locations, and mobile COVID-19 vaccine carts. “To date, the COVID-19 vaccination process has been well received, and we anticipate strong vaccine uptake,” she said.
Dr. Shaw acknowledged certain limitations of the survey, including its cross-sectional design and the fact that it was conducted in a single health care system in the northeastern United States. “Thus, generalizability to other regions of the U.S. and other countries may be limited,” Dr. Shaw said. “The study was also conducted before EUA [emergency use authorization] was granted to either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. It is therefore likely that vaccine acceptance will change over time as more people get vaccinated.”
The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Dr. Milstone disclosed that he has received a research grant from Merck, but it is not related to vaccines.
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