Fewer healthcare workers say they’ll refuse a COVID-19 shot now than they did in December, according to an updated vaccine hesitancy survey from Surgo Ventures.

Among 2,500 healthcare workers queried in December, 15% said they would decline vaccination. By the end of January, 20% of those respondents had changed their minds, bringing the number of workers who said they’d refuse down to 11%, the company reported.

When asked what factors might convince them otherwise, respondents who were offered the vaccine but declined leaned toward two responses: If their workplace mandated it, and if they could see more evidence of efficacy.

There also was an indication of which worker groups were more likely to be hesitant. Among the three studied by the surveyors, allied health professionals (such as physical therapists, health technicians, and home health workers) were most likely to say they’d refuse vaccination, followed by non-medical personnel working in healthcare settings (administrators and operations staff members). These groups were trailed by healthcare professionals (physicians, nurses, dentists).

Notably, about 17% of the survey pool consisted of eldercare workers in the skilled nursing, assisted living and home healthcare industries, the company said. On average, workers in this group had a vaccine likelihood score of 7.5 on a scale of zero to ten, compared to a slightly higher 7.9 for respondents who did not work in these industries (with a higher score denoting “extremely likely to take the vaccine”).  

The majority of the eldercare worker group said that they had received general vaccine information from their employers and indicated that they have pro-vaccine beliefs and/or behaviors, such as believing that it is the right thing to recommend a vaccine to patients. But risk perception is higher in this group than among respondents in other industries. A substantially higher percentage of workers in eldercare (40%) believe that they have a high chance of getting seriously ill from COVID-19, compared to 28% of other workers, for example. They also have a higher expectation that they will experience side effects. 

What’s more, close to a third of the eldercare group believes that there has been political interference in the COVID-19 vaccine approval process, compared to 22% of workers not in eldercare.

In the overall survey population, the researchers’ predictive model found that demographics play a role in vaccine refusal. For example:

  • Women are more likely to refuse a COVID-19 vaccination than men.
  • Republicans are more likely to decline than Democrats.
  • Respondents in rural areas are more likely to refuse than those in urban areas.

Past behavior and expectations also were linked to vaccine decision-making. Respondents who have taken the flu vaccine were less likely to say they’d refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. And those who thought they would experience vaccine side effects but wouldn’t become seriously ill from COVID-19 had higher refusal rates. Unsurprisingly, respondents who indicated that they believe the vaccine is unsafe were also more likely to refuse, Surgo reported.

Overall, the latest findings bode well for efforts to get all healthcare workers vaccinated, although troubling inequities remain, said Sema K. Sgaier, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO. “Given that we can reach healthcare workers through their workplaces, there are clear channels we can leverage to reach them and help change their minds — concrete, community-oriented efforts such as workplace ambassadors, one-on-one conversations, and listening sessions, for example.”