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LONDON, UK: As world leaders are continuing to roll out vaccination programmes and encouraging the public to get vaccinated, one thing is clear: there are still people who refuse or delay their vaccinations. Healthcare workers are a priority group since they run an elevated risk of infection. However, in a recent study, researchers found that vaccine hesitancy prevails in around a quarter of healthcare workers in the UK and that, compared with their white British colleagues, some ethnic minority groups show more resistance to getting vaccinated.
The UK Research study into Ethnicity And COVID-19 outcomes in Healthcare workers (UK-REACH) study is among the largest and most comprehensive vaccine hesitancy studies to date and was launched after mounting evidence showed that people from ethnic minority backgrounds had double the risk of severe COVID-19 disease compared with the risk for the white population. The research is funded by UK Research and Innovation and the National Institute for Health Research and supported by large national professional regulatory bodies.
In the study, the researchers analysed ethnic differences in SARS-CoV-2 vaccine hesitancy among 11,584 healthcare workers. They considered factors such as demographics, vaccine trust and perceived risk of COVID-19 and found that, despite the increased risk of infection, 23% of the participants reported vaccine hesitancy. Healthcare workers from Black Caribbean (54.2%), Mixed White and Black Caribbean (38.1%) and Black African (34.4%) ethnic groups were found to be significantly more hesitant than white British healthcare workers, of which group 21.3% were found to be hesitant.
According to the data, independent predictors of hesitancy include younger age, female sex, a higher score on a COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs scale, lower trust in employer, lack of influenza vaccine uptake in the previous season, previous COVID-19 and pregnancy. After analysing qualitative data from 99 participants, the researchers also found that there was a lack of trust in government and employers among the participants. Additionally, the participants expressed safety concerns owing to rapid vaccine development, lack of ethnic diversity in vaccine studies, and confusing and conflicting information.
In light of the findings, the researchers urged the government to develop strategies that would help build trust among ethnic minority groups and dispel myths surrounding the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine in the respective communities. They concluded that any communication regarding public health should be inclusive and that the government should promote vaccination through trusted websites.
“This research shows that most healthcare workers—including dental professionals—recognise that vaccines are safe and effective, but that a minority remain hesitant”
Commenting on the results, General Dental Council (GDC) Executive Director of Strategy Stefan Czerniawski said in a press release: “We encourage all dental professionals to be vaccinated as an important step in protecting their patients, their communities and, of course, themselves.”
“This research shows that most healthcare workers—including dental professionals—recognise that vaccines are safe and effective, but that a minority remain hesitant. It’s important to understand the reasons for that so that concerns can be addressed, and take-up encouraged,” he added.
Czerniawski commented that the GDC will continue to seek opportunities to promote a wide vaccination take-up and to show their support for the findings of the study. Additionally, the organisation has recently updated its vaccination guidance for dental professionals and employers and encourages dental professionals to read it.
The study, titled “Ethnic differences in SARS-CoV-2 vaccine hesitancy in United Kingdom healthcare workers: Results from the UK-REACH prospective nationwide cohort study”, was published online on 28 April 2021 on medRxiv.org.