DHVI Faculty Opinion: Why are some healthcare workers denying COVID-19 vaccination?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have proven to be highly effective in preventing severe cases of COVID-19 with over 94% protection against SAR-CoV-2. Although expedited, the vaccines were carefully evaluated in clinical trials and were approved by the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2020.

To date, both COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to government officials, healthcare workers and long term staff and residents. However, there are recent reports of healthcare and long term staff declining vaccinations. This reporting is a concern for many, particularly researchers at Duke.

“I do not understand the reasoning, but it appears to be a widespread problem, not only in hospitals but in private practices as well,” says Guido Ferrari, MD, Professor in the Department of Surgery, Division of Surgical Sciences at Duke University Medical Center, and member of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.

It can be assumed that since healthcare workers are a part of the medical field, that they would be eager to receive either vaccine. Yet this has proven untrue. So why are some healthcare workers and long term staff opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations?

“It seems to me that the most common sentiment is related on the ability we demonstrated to make this vaccine so quickly. This couples with the profound misinformation about the new vaccine platforms... There is no widespread knowledge of everything we have gained by working on HIV and Ebola for the safety  of some of these new vaccines regimens,” says Dr. Ferrari, “This indicates that we need to do a better job to communicate our findings to the community, and in particular to our colleagues in health care at any level.”

Tony Moody, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Immunology at Duke University School of Medicine and a principal investigator at the Duke CIVIC Vaccine Center has similar opinions but also suggests healthcare workers may have underlying conditions that make them concerned about taking a new vaccine, despite the safety data.

“Healthcare workers may be reluctant to be on the front line of vaccination because of their personal health status. That comes across as reluctance to be vaccinated at all, when it’s really they don’t want to make their health history public, which is their right,” says Dr. Moody.

Additionally, Dr. Moody suggests that some healthcare workers are scared to be on the frontlines, as they are still part of the experiment.

“Some folks are simply afraid of being on the vanguard of this. If you look at other vaccines that have been deployed in hundreds of millions or even billions of people, the vaccinated population is still pretty small. Some people would prefer that others go first.”

According to Dr. Moody, a licensed COVID-19 vaccine is one way to ease concern amongst healthcare workers.

“Until we get to a point where we have a licensed COVID-19 vaccine, we will be facing this situation. However, a licensed vaccine requires a longer safety record, which requires more time. These vaccines have already shown that they are very effective at preventing severe COVID-19, so we encourage people to look at the data and get vaccinated.”