By Marcia Frellick
August 3, 2020 — Physicians are the most likely group of healthcare professionals to get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available, according to a new Medscape poll.
More than 7000 healthcare professionals, including clinicians, medical students, and administrators, responded to the poll.
US physicians who responded were as likely as physicians outside the United States to say they would get a vaccine when it’s ready. Nurses and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) were much less likely than physicians overall to say yes.
Table. Do You Plan to Get a COVID-19 Vaccine When it Becomes Available?*
Answer% US Physicians% Physicians Outside US% Nurses/APRNs**Yes717553No13824Unsure171623
*Percentages may not equal 100% due to rounding
**Advanced Practice Registered Nurses
Which Specialists Are Most Likely to Get Vaccinated?
Willingness to get a COVID-19 vaccine varied substantially by specialty. Eighty-two percent of ophthalmologists said they would get a vaccine, followed by radiologists (79%); obstetricians/gynecologists (77%); psychiatrists/mental health providers (76%); pathologists (72%); anesthesiologists (70%); family physicians (69%); emergency physicians (63%); and internists (62%). (Responses listed are based on specialties that provided an adequate amount of poll data.)
Physicians’ willingness to recommend that their patients get the vaccine as soon as one is available ranged from 65% among ophthalmologists to 46% among emergency physicians. Between 48% and 53% of the other specialists said they would advise immediate uptake.
Willingness to get vaccinated for COVID-19 also appeared to increase by age. Among physicians, 56% of those younger than 35 said they would take the vaccine while 79% of those 65 and older said they would. Fewer than half of younger nurses (46%) said they would take it compared with 66% of those at least 65 years old. While 58% of younger pharmacists said they would get the vaccine, the number grew to 83% for those at least 65 years old.
Patients More Reluctant Than Providers
These results contrast with those from a similar WebMD poll of patients, which found much more reluctance to get vaccinated. Slightly more than 40% of patients said they plan to get a vaccine, while 28% said they do not. Another 30% were unsure.
Of those responding to the Medscape poll who said they had concerns about a vaccine, potential safety risks and lack of effectiveness were the two top reasons.
Physicians were the least concerned (58%) about effectiveness while 71% of medical students were most concerned. Among other clinicians, 63% of pharmacists were concerned about effectiveness, followed by physician assistants (62%); other healthcare providers (61%); and nurses/APRNs (60%).
Among specialists, confidence in a vaccine varied considerably, but overall the expectations were low, with less than half of respondents across almost all specialties confident that the first vaccine would be effective or very effective.
About 50% of ophthalmologists and anesthesiologists were confident a vaccine would be effective, but only 28% of family physicians answered that way.
Medscape previously reported that nearly half of respondents (48%) to an Ipsos/Reuters poll in May said they were cautious about any COVID-19 vaccine that was quickly approved in a process that usually takes at least a decade. One third of respondents said they did not trust the people making vaccines.
John Whyte, MD, chief medical officer of WebMD, said the high level of concern among patients should serve as a wake-up call.
“If immunization rates are low, then we’re not going to achieve the level of herd immunity needed to protect us from this virus.”
Physicians Have Fewest Concerns About Adverse Effects
Physicians were the least likely health professional (47%) to say they were worried about potential adverse effects of a vaccine that would outweigh the risks of COVID-19. Next among providers with that thinking were pharmacists (48%); nurses/APRNs (58%); other healthcare providers (60%); and PAs (61%). Nearly 60% of medical students said they were concerned about potential adverse effects that could outweigh COVID-19 risks.
US physicians were more likely than those outside the United States to say they were concerned about lack of effectiveness in a COVID-19 vaccine (58% vs 48%).
Patients responding to the WebMD poll also said they were concerned about the safety of a new vaccine; 78% cited concerns about adverse effects. Another 15% weren’t convinced it would be effective.
Few Predict a Vaccine in 2020
Asked when they thought a vaccine would be readily available, few healthcare professionals predicted that would happen by the end of this year. Only 22% of physicians, 17% of pharmacists, and 14% of nurses/APRNs expected that.
But confidence is high that a vaccine will be widely available sometime in 2021.
Table 2. When Do You Think an Effective COVID-19 Vaccine Will Be Widely Available?
Answer% Physicians% Nurses/APRNs% Pharmacists% Health Business/AdministrationBy end of 202022141715In 202165646763In 20228111011Later than 20222635Never3536
When a COVID-19 vaccine is available, healthcare facilities will have to make policy decisions about who must get it.
One commenter on the poll said, “I’ll be interested to see how various institutions handle vaccination policies. For example, the hospital where I work has a mandatory flu vaccination policy. Many of our employees resent this mandatory vaccination but still go along with it because the flu vaccines have been around for so long that they have some reassurance of safety.”
Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick
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