Opinion | Why Are So Many of My Fellow Health Workers Unvaccinated?

By Syra Madad

Dr. Madad is an infectious disease epidemiologist and leads the special pathogens program for NYC Health + Hospitals, the nation’s largest public health care system.

In April of last year, I along with my entire family — my husband, my three children, in-laws and at least one of our four home health aides — came down with Covid-19. The domino effect of household transmission was like a spark that set our house on fire. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life — and I am an infectious disease epidemiologist who responded to the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

I am facing a new challenge at home and at my job, helping lead the pandemic response for New York City’s public hospitals: vaccine hesitancy, especially among health care workers.

As of early March 2021, surveys showed that nearly half of frontline health care workers remained unvaccinated, even though this group has been eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine since December 2020.

I have faced this issue in my own home; my husband and I employ four home health aides around the clock for an ailing family member. By late February, several weeks after private home health aides had become eligible for the vaccine, only one had opted to get vaccinated. In April a second aide decided to get her dose after much cajoling, and a third just agreed to do so this month. One remains unvaccinated.

One might reasonably ask, why haven’t we mandated vaccination as a condition of employment? There are a couple of reasons. For one, all the adults in our family have been vaccinated. I have also been confident that our home health aides could be persuaded, with conversations that addressed their concerns and help making their vaccination plans happen.

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