Clinical TopicsDiversity/Equity/InclusionEarly Release

Nurses and vaccine hesitancy

By: Leah Curtin, RN, ScD(h), FAAN

You’re too important not to get vaccinated.

Editor’s note: This is an early release of an article that will appear in the March 2021 issue of American Nurse Journal.

If you can and if you are offered the chance, take the COVID-19 vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that healthcare personnel be among those offered the first doses. Healthcare personnel include all paid and unpaid individuals serving in healthcare settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials. According to the news media, a considerable number of healthcare personnel are refusing to take the vaccine and some are deliberately spoiling it so others can’t take it. The New York Times reported that Steven Brandenburg, a pharmacist in Wisconsin, was arrested for removing 570 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine from refrigeration and leaving it to sit out at room temperature. Prosecutors say that his goal was to make the vaccines useless.


In Brandenburg’s case, he believed that the vaccine would harm people by changing their DNA. Although his is an extreme case, he’s not alone in failing to embrace the vaccine. A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 29% of healthcare workers are “vaccine hesitant.” The percentage in the general population is around 27%. And an American Nurses Foundation October survey found that about two-thirds of the nurses polled were unsure about receiving the vaccine or said they wouldn’t voluntarily get it. Their reasons vary. Some say they distrust the speed at which the vaccine was developed and approved, some are wary of being “guinea pigs” because they’re the first outside of clinical trials to receive the vaccine, and others express commonly held conspiracy theories about the vaccine (for example, that it can mutate human DNA or cause COVID-19 infections to worsen).

COVID-19 skepticism among healthcare workers also is playing out in a very public way on social media. Accounts with “nurse” in their names are proclaiming that they won’t get vaccinated and strongly suggest their followers shouldn’t either. 


My dear colleagues, please get vaccinated. You’re too valuable and too badly needed to get sick or die. This is a uniquely risky situation, where people claiming medical expertise seem to be working to undermine trust in a vaccine, all while a pandemic rages and most of the global population will need to get a vaccine to keep all of us safe.

COVID-19 denialism and vaccine skepticism among healthcare professionals might seem especially illogical, but it points to how all of us are vulnerable to misinformation and conspiracy-like thinking, independent of our professions. I would give my right arm to get a vaccination, but I’m not eligible. You are. And you are needed. So please get it. NOW…or as soon as you are able.

Access information about COVID-19 on the American Nurses Association’s website:


American Nurses Foundation. Pulse on the nation’s nurses COVID-19 survey series: COVID-19.

Dewan S, Nolan K. A pharmacist accused of sabotaging vaccine doses is a conspiracy theorist, the police say. The New York Times. January 5, 2021.

Dooling K, McClung N, Chamberland M, et al. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ interim recommendation for allocating initial supplies for COVID-19 vaccine—United States, 2020. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69:1857-9.

Hamel L, Kirzinger A, Muñana C, Brodie M. KFF COVID-19 monitor: December 2020. Kaiser Family Foundation. December 15, 2020.

McNeil DG Jr. How much herd immunity is enough? The New York Times. December 24, 2020.

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