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Vaccine Hesitancy Highest Among Jobs Like Construction And Farming

Carlow University vaccine clinic on Jan. 15, 2021.
Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
Nurse Denise Fingeret administers the first dose of the Moderna vaccine to Carlow University nursing student Courtney Vought. During the spring 2021 semester Vought will do clinical rotations at several Pittsburgh-area hospitals. (01/15/2021.)

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy correlates with certain occupations, according to a new data analysis from University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University researchers.

More than 40% of survey respondents who work in the fields of construction and extraction, installation, maintenance and repair, farming, fishing, and forestry said they would "probably not" or "definitely not" get the vaccine.

Researchers say this information can be used to shape public health vaccination campaigns, including implementing workplace clinics.

“In addition to possibly being a good idea because [workplaces] can do the public health promotion specific to a group....they can also help with it becoming more of a norm,” said lead author Wendy King, a Pitt epidemiologist. “Maybe somebody lives in a family or community where they don’t know people getting vaccinated. But 'Hey, on our work site, people are getting vaccinated.' Now it’s the norm.”

Side effects of vaccination was the most cited reason for hesitancy by survey respondents. But those working in the highest hesitancy occupations were more likely to report concerns regarding the speed of the vaccines’ development, said they did not trust the government, or did not think they needed the vaccine.

Those working in education, as well as in the health, life and social sciences, had vaccine hesitancy rates of under 10%.

The survey was conducted in collaboration with CMU’s Delphi Group, which performs epidemiological forecasting. For this particular data, researchers queried more than 732,000 working-age adults in March through the Facebook Data for Good group.

“One of the things we were able to do with this data is look at very fine-grain categories because of the scale of the survey,” said CMU biostatistician Robin Mejia, the study’s senior author, and King’s sister. “It’s possible in part because of the reach of Facebook.”

While they had expected there to be some correlation between hesitancy rates and occupations, both Mejia and King said they were surprised by the magnitude of the difference.

“Some professions that have high hesitancy have seen workplace outbreaks — agriculture…production as well, and meat packing plants, and other productions facilities,” said Mejia. “So certainly, I’m concerned by those results.”

For this reason, King, Mejia, and their other collaborators decided to go public with their data, with what is known as a “preprint,” before it had been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“I actually had to be talked into it,” said King. “But the idea of not getting the data out to people for three or four months just didn’t seem responsible either.”

King and Mejia plan to publish additional research based on this survey data, including how hesitancy rates correlate with race, age, geography, beliefs, and behaviors.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.