Diary of a Healthcare Worker: Unpacking My Coworkers’ Vaccine Concerns

The following article was written by our NRC intern, AIaina Kautz.

A few weeks ago, I was shocked to learn that the majority of my coworkers at a COVID-19 Testing facility were hesitant to get the vaccine, and some refused it altogether. It has been extremely interesting to see the number of healthcare workers across the country express concern about getting vaccinated over the last few weeks. To me, it makes sense to get vaccinated as we are exposed to COVID-19 every time we work, and the vaccine rollout would have most of us at the back of the line if it weren’t for this job. Some of my coworkers don’t feel this way. Four of our twenty person staff decided to get the vaccine. I asked those who had opted out about their reasoning; did they not trust this particular vaccine, or were they devout anti-vaxxers? Here’s what I found.

An older gentleman on our staff has worked in healthcare for close to 40 years said “ I will have to do some reading on the subject, there just isn’t that much info out there right now,” when asked if he planned on getting the shot. He was quick to rattle off nearly his entire vaccination record from memory, and stated “there really wasn’t a choice” when it came to the anthrax and malaria vaccines he received while serving in the army. When I asked if he had any adverse reactions to either of those vaccinations, there was no comment. “It comes down to a level of trust,” he told me. “No one can force me to get it, and I would like more information,” despite the generational divide and my lack of a malaria and anthrax vaccine, I see where he is coming from. This man felt like he had no say in what was put in his body as a young person. He didn’t have the luxury of the time to read up on the various medical studies surrounding those vaccines, and now he feels like he does. The current vaccination situation is scary. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous driving up for my first and second doses, but I feel the sooner more people are vaccinated, the better. I trust the science behind these vaccines is sound and that the agencies in place to ensure our safety have done their job well. Whether my co-worker chooses to get the vaccine or not is his prerogative, but the factors we have considered in our decisions are very different.

Another coworker I asked about their concerns surrounding the vaccine was a young Latina mother. This coworker looked at me like I was insane when I told her I planned on getting mine, and I felt like there must be a good reason. She told me that since she had tested positive for COVID a few months ago and had very mild symptoms, she felt like it would be okay to forego the vaccine. She plans to keep practicing social distancing and wearing a mask in public, but does not trust that the vaccine is safe due to its record approval time: “As a mom, I just don’t want to risk it.” I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent, nor do I know how it feels to be the one making decisions for a family. It’s another case of different considerations. There is research saying that reinfection is possible, and clinical trials have shown the vaccine to be safe and effective, but the approval time seems to be a major roadblock for a lot of people.

All over the country, stories are popping up about healthcare workers refusing to get the vaccine for a multitude of reasons. Some have preexisting conditions, some have fallen prey to misinformation campaigns, and some have concerns based on generational trauma. But almost everyone is dealing with the anxiety of wondering whether they are making the right decision. Unfortunately, there is no way to give our friends, family, and coworkers 100% peace of mind when it comes to this vaccine, but the health of our communities relies on all of us doing our part to stop the spread of COVID-19. All we can do is educate ourselves and others through verified material, trust science & medical professionals, and listen to each other with compassion and empathy.

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