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Home » Physician vaccine hesitancy — new polling shows about 10% are anti-vaccine

Physician vaccine hesitancy — new polling shows about 10% are anti-vaccine

A new poll published in Vaccine showed that physician acceptance of vaccine safety, effectiveness, and importance was extremely high. However, physician vaccine hesitancy seemed to be higher than expected, with about 1 in 10 primary care physicians not believing that vaccines are safe.

I want to examine this poll about physician vaccine hesitancy and give my opinions on what was found.

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The physician vaccine poll

In an article, published on 20 April 2022 in Vaccine, Timothy Callaghan, Ph.D., of Texas A&M School of Public Health in College Station, and colleagues surveyed 625 physicians in internal medicine, family medicine, and general practice, between 14 and 25 May 2021, to determine their level of acceptance of vaccines. This is what they found:

  • 10.1% did not agree that vaccines were safe. However, only 67.4% of physicians strongly agreed that vaccines were safe.
  • 9.3% did not agree that vaccines were effective. Just 75% strongly agreed that they were effective.
  • 8.3% did not agree that vaccines were important. Only 76% strongly agreed that vaccines are important.
  • 5.2% were not vaccinated against COVID-19. This number was low probably because of employer mandates and perceived risks of their work.
  • The researchers found that higher levels of political conservatism were negatively and significantly associated with agreeing that vaccines are safe. The political argument about vaccines has influenced physician vaccine hesitancy.
  • Physicians who were more liberal were more likely to strongly agree that vaccines are effective compared with those who were more conservative.
  • The researchers also found those who had contracted COVID-19 were significantly less likely to believe that vaccines are safe.
  • The survey also asked specifically about confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and found physician confidence split by vaccine type. While 68.7% were very confident in the safety of the Moderna vaccine and 72.7% were very confident in the safety of the Pfizer vaccine, only 32.1% were very confident in the safety of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Callaghan and colleagues also compared their results to an identically worded survey of the general public by Wellcome Global Monitor and Gallup. Here’s what they found

Vaccines are safe
Strongly agree67.4%47.4%
Somewhat agree21.4%24.4%
Neither agree nor disagree3.4%15.7%
Somewhat disagree1.9%6.2%
Strongly disagree4.8%4.9%
Don’t Know/Refused1.1%1.1%
Vaccines are effective
Strongly agree75.5%60.0%
Somewhat agree14.4%24.4%
Neither agree nor disagree2.1%8.9%
Somewhat disagree0.5%3.7%
Strongly disagree6.7%2.1%
Don’t Know/Refused0.8%1.2%
Vaccines are important
Strongly agree76.3%73.9%
Somewhat agree13.4%13.0%
Neither agree nor disagree2.1%7.5%
Somewhat disagree0.5%3.8%
Strongly disagree5.8%2.3%
Don’t Know/Refused1.9%0.5%

If you look at those numbers carefully, you will notice that there are some differences between the public’s attitude towards vaccines in general compared to physicians.

  • 88.8% of physicians agree that vaccines are safe while only 71.8% of the public agree.
  • 89.9% of physicians agree that vaccines are effective compared to 84.4% of the general public.
  • 89.7% of physicians agree that vaccines are important compared to 86.9 of the public.

The real divergence between the two groups is in vaccine safety.

Callaghan and colleagues seem to indicate that physicians did not receive enough education in vaccinology which leads to a higher level of physician vaccine hesitancy, although I have written in the past that all physicians receive training and education in most aspects of vaccines.

person holding a vaccine
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Although we could look at the results and say that the level of physician vaccine hesitancy is around 10%, many of us wonder why it’s not closer to 0%. Physicians should be science-based, getting their data from respected scientific sources, but one has to wonder if some physicians get their information from the same anti-vaccine websites as your typical anti-vaxxer.

So, I guess this polling gives us a modicum of good news about physician vaccine hesitancy and acceptance, but we all have to wonder why more of the responses weren’t “strongly agreed” to vaccine safety, effectiveness, and importance.

I hope that the hesitancy doesn’t grow as more new vaccines come to the market over the next few years because some of those vaccines are going to be game-changers in protecting us from some miserable diseases.


Michael Simpson

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