Why aren’t nursing home caregivers getting vaccinated? David Grabowski, Ph.D., Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School and a Nexus Fellow, discussed the issue recently with Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., Head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and Judy Stone, M.D., an infectious disease expert.
The biggest concern: The lowest vaccination rates are among those who have the most contact with residents. “I have encountered quite a bit of hesitancy among nursing home staff. Unfortunately, the vaccination rates are lower among the nurse aides, those with the most direct contact with the resident,” Grabowski said. “And that’s been the greatest policy challenge.”
The cause? Grabowski believes it’s often an issue with trust. “Nurse aides are making close to minimum wage. Oftentimes, they don’t trust management or leadership,” he said. “They’re very resistant to authority and being told what to do. There’s just not a strong relationship between labor and management in this setting. This is a for-profit nursing home where this workforce hasn’t been treated very well historically and hasn’t been treated well during this pandemic. Remember that direct caregivers in nursing homes had the highest death rate among any profession in the U.S. during the pandemic. More so than commercial fishermen, and more so than logging workers.”
“Remember that direct caregivers in nursing homes had the highest death rate among any profession in the U.S. during the pandemic.” – David Grabowski
Another issue? “They don’t trust the vaccine,” Grabowski said. “I’ve heard some concerns about side effects. Hopefully, some of that has receded. Hopefully, they’ve seen their colleagues getting vaccinated and have seen few side effects. But there’s a lot of concern about long-term side effects and the overall safety of the vaccine.”
Stone agreed. What’s more, she suggested that incentives can actually increase distrust. “Why do you have to give me a gift card to take this? Is there something wrong with it? It sows suspicion.” In addition, she said that vaccine mandates may lead workers to believe that, rather than making them safer, it will instead lead to them working in a riskier setting.