New surveys show healthcare workers are increasingly willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, which researchers say is important to convincing the rest of the population to get inoculated. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
March 23 (UPI) -- Just over half of all healthcare workers at one health system said they would receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but that number increased to more than 80% once the shots were cleared for use, according to the results of a survey published Tuesday by JAMA Network Open.
The survey of roughly 16,300 Geisinger Health System employees in Pennsylvania was conducted in December, just as two vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, received clearance.
Overall, 55% of all respondents to the survey said they would get vaccinated, but this factors in that just 53% of those surveyed before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval of the shots said they would do so.
The figure increased, to 80%, among those who responded after the vaccines received an emergency use authorization from the FDA, the researchers said.
About 55% of the "vaccine hesitant" respondents -- those who reported that they would refuse the shots or who were undecided -- cited "insufficient data" on any health risks with inoculation.
"Because the public often looks to local healthcare workers for health advice ... [these trends were] quite concerning for the prospect of achieving population immunity," study co-author Michelle N. Meyer told UPI in an email.
However, "it matters how we ask people whether they want a COVID-19 vaccine, and we should remember this as we encourage more members of the public to get vaccinated," said Meyer, an assistant professor of bioethics at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in Scranton, Pa.
Earlier surveys have indicated that as few as one-third of healthcare workers were willing to get vaccinated.
However, in their survey, Meyer and her colleagues emphasized that vaccine supplies potentially would be scarce and that the shots would be up to 95% effective at preventing severe illness from COVID-19.
In addition, as of Feb. 18, 67% of Geisinger staff had received at least one dose of either of the two-dose vaccines, "a higher percentage than had initially indicated they would receive the vaccine," she said.
This suggests increasing confidence in the shots among health workers as the products were evaluated, approved and administered, according to Meyer and her colleagues.
Among the 58% of the survey respondents who were directly involved in patient care, 57% said they would get the vaccine.
In comparison, just over 51% of non-patient-facing staff were willing to the get the shot.
Along with concerns over the lack of long-term safety data for the vaccines, about one-third of vaccine hesitant respondents were worried about known side effects with the shots, including headache and fatigue.
"Healthcare workers have the potential to be important ambassadors of vaccine acceptance for their patients and members of the public," Meyer said.
"That health care workers appear to be much more accepting of COVID-19 vaccines than several earlier surveys had suggested is therefore very good news for public health," she said.