Every day, more Americans become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, yet nearly half of all frontline health care workers remain unvaccinated, even though they were given priority access to the first available doses.
Only 52% of all frontline health care workers say they have received even a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post.
That leaves 48% of health care workers on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19, including doctors, nurses, housekeepers and home health aides, entirely unprotected against and vulnerable to the virus.
Researchers surveyed more than 1,300 health care workers whose jobs expose them to patients or bodily fluids, putting them at higher risk than others of contracting COVID-19, which more than one year into the pandemic has infected nearly 30 million Americans and killed more than 500,000.
Side effects concern some
Three different vaccines that have proven effective against COVID-19 are currently on the market and being administered to large swaths of the U.S. population. Yet clearly, there have been gaps in distribution, as well as in the willingness of individuals to become inoculated against the virus.
Among those health care workers who remain unvaccinated, 12% said they have not yet decided if they will accept a shot in the arm. Another 18% said, citing concerns over side effects and the vaccines' newness, according to the survey results.
Employers also play a role in helping employees access doses. Workers who are self-employed report lower rates of vaccination.
More than 8 out of 10 vaccinated health care workers who are not self-employed say they received a COVID-19 vaccine through their employer. Meanwhile, only 1 out of 5 vaccinated health care workers who are based in patients' homes say they received a COVID-19 vaccine from their local health department.
Vaccine skepticism among Black Americans
Racial disparities are evident in vaccination rates among health care workers, too.
Black health care workers in particular have been reluctant to become vaccinated, with 53% of Black frontline health care workers saying they are not confident that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe. This holds steady across the general population — 47% of Black adults who are not necessarily health care workers feel similarly, according to the survey.
There has been a historic distrust of the medical community by many African Americans, stemming from past abuses that can resonate to this day. They include experimental operations on enslaved Black women in the 1840s as well as the infamous Tuskegee Institute experiments in the 1930s that examined the progression of syphilis in Black men who were misled to believe they were receiving treatment for the disease.
Employers across the U.S.as a condition of employment, however most are opting to offer bonuses and other incentives to employees who get jabbed, rather than enforce compliance.
Experts say the government, community leaders and even private companies must be a part of the effort to help individuals overcome vaccine hesitancy so the U.S. can achieve herd immunity.
The Biden administration's, signed into law last week, will help fund states' rollout of the vaccine as well as other COVID-19 responses.
Specifically, the package provides $7.5 billion to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to spend on vaccination efforts. Some of the money will be spent on grants for states to improve COVID-19 vaccination distribution and administration.