With the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine finally rolling out to frontline workers, many are hopeful that this is the beginning of the end. But it may be months before the vaccine reaches the general population. And a significant percentage may end up refusing the vaccine.

An emerging pattern

That trend is already playing out in the first rounds of vaccinations. According to preliminary data, well over 50 percent of long-term care staff in North Carolina are declining to get the vaccine.

A similar phenomenon is unfolding nationwide. In Ohio, an estimated 60 percent of long-term care staff have refused the vaccine. (Among long-term care residents in Ohio, however, that rate is much higher, with roughly 80 percent of residents opting to get vaccinated.) High refusal rates are also coming to light in California and New York, according to a recent Forbes article.

What’s behind the high refusal rates?

Hesitation to get the vaccine – what some have termed “vaccine reluctance” – seems to spring from fears over safety and side effects with such a new vaccine. Political concerns are also contributing to the refusals. Many are distrustful of the federal government, particularly the Trump administration’s rush to get the vaccine rolled out (and his election-fueled incentive to hurry the process along). Even the name of the federal initiative to get the vaccine approved and distributed – dubbed “Operation Warp Speed” – raises questions about whether safety may have been sacrificed for speed.

Still, there is plentiful evidence that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. But given the lack of clarity and education about those benefits, public health officials have their work cut out for them.

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