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February 8, 2021

America’s health care workers have lived through unspeakable trauma over the last year, putting their lives and those of their families at great risk as they fight a novel viral outbreak. COVID-19 has claimed more than 450,000 American lives, including almost 3,000 health care personnel.

The development of effective vaccines was always going to be a key turning point in controlling the pandemic and bringing back something resembling normalcy. That has been most true for front-line health care workers, who are among those most vulnerable due to their proximity to infected patients.

A vaccinated health care workforce can continue manning the front lines in the battle against the pandemic, and be ambassadors for a broader vaccination effort.

But the campaign to immunize health care professionals has hit a snag as a notable number of front-line workers decline the vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 38% of nursing home workers participated in the federally run vaccination campaign for residents and employees of the facilities during its first month. Although those numbers likely have risen in the weeks since, and that tally doesn’t include workers who received a vaccine outside of their workplaces, they illustrate the problem.

A Morning Consult survey conducted in the first week of January found that 23% of health care workers said they would never accept the vaccine. Among unvaccinated employees, 38% said they feared long-term side effects. Health care workers appear somewhat more skeptical compared to the general public. A Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation survey last month found that 13% of Americans said they will never get vaccinated against COVID-19.

But surveys are also showing consistently increasing acceptance of the vaccines since they actually became available, and more than 27 million Americans have gotten at least one dose, so hesitancy may be fading.