A Vaccine for Coronavirus? A Large Number of Israeli Doctors Will Refuse to Get It

Only 61% of nurses and 78% of doctors say they would be willing to get vaccinated, with safety being the biggest concern, according to survey taken in April

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Inside the coronavirus critical care unit at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, July 2020.
Inside the coronavirus critical care unit at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, July 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Shortly after the coronavirus erupted in Israel, Dr. Amiel Dror, a physician and researcher at the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, happened to talk with one of the nurses at the hospital about the development of a vaccine. “I said I wished a vaccine had already been found and we could finish this coronavirus chapter,” he recalls.

Her reply was totally unexpected. She said: “Are you kidding? Do you think I would get myself vaccinated?” He asked another nurse, who solemnly informed him that she too has no intention of getting vaccinated against the coronavirus when the vaccine arrives in Israel.

“I was very surprised. I was certain that health care workers, of all people, who are more exposed, care for patients and know the situation first-hand would not hesitate to get inoculated when the vaccine arrives in Israel,” Dror says. These chance conversations about the subject led him to conduct a survey-based study that examined the willingness of health care workers, as compared the general population, to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Dror, a research physician at the Galilee Medical Center and the Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Medicine in Safed, led the research team together with Dr. Eyal Sela, also of the Galilee Medical Center; their study was published recently in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

The study is based on anonymous questionnaires distributed to 1,941 participants, among them 211 female and male nurses and 338 doctors of both sexes from various medical specializations, departments and units, including coronavirus units, at hospitals throughout Israel. In addition, 1,112 identical questionnaires were given to participants who are not health care workers in a random sample of the general population.

The respondents were asked questions about their readiness to get vaccinated against the coronavirus when the time comes, as well as reasons for their hesitancy, whether they habitually get flu shots, whether they have young children, what their employment situation is and whether their livelihood has been negatively affected by the virus crisis.

Among general population, the study found that respondents’ willingness to get vaccinated – when the vaccine is approved and the vaccination campaign begins in Israel – stood at 75 percent.

But among the health care workers, the study presents a complex and surprising picture. The most dramatic finding by Dror and Sela is that there is an especially low rate of willingness to accept the vaccine among nurses of both sexes – 61 percent. Among doctors, 78 percent said they would get vaccinated – a bit more than in the general population.

The respondents were also asked it they would vaccinate their children against COVID-19. Only 55 percent of the nurses and 60 percent of the doctors replied in the affirmative, as compared to 70 percent of the general population.

The survey was conducted during April, at the height of the first wave and at a time when Israel was under lockdown. “It’s the medical teams that are exposed to the patients and to the heavy burden, and therefore it seemed very natural to us that a hospital health care worker would want to get vaccinated,” Dror says. “In fact, we found that there is no significant difference between health care workers and the general population in this matter.”

Of the respondents, 76 percent – both in the general population and among the health care workers – noted the issue of the safety of the vaccine as their most significant concern. Another 13 percent gave concern about side effects as a reason and 11 percent said they saw the coronavirus as a minor illness.

People wearing masks walk in Jerusalem, August 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

“We found that people who are highly likely to get a flu shot will also get vaccinated against the coronavirus, as will people who consider themselves to be at high risk for getting infected,” says Dror. “However, we found that among parents of young children, there was less willingness.”

Another interesting finding is a positive correlation between having become unemployed because of the coronavirus and willingness to get the vaccination – 92 percent, as compared to 72 percent among respondents who had been unemployed before the outbreak and 75 percent among employed respondents.

According to Dror, “There is a lack of trust in the process [of developing the vaccine], especially when it comes to safety. People are not afraid that the vaccine will be ineffective – they are afraid that it will not be safe.” He adds that the lack of trust and willingness to get vaccinated among health care workers could have a dramatic effect on the public: “To create an efficient herd immunity effect, you need a large mass of people who have been vaccinated. ... The moment there is a successful vaccine against the coronavirus, there will be a need for extensive public campaigns on the issue of the safety and efficacy of vaccines.”

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