COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Disability Support Workers

Our findings show that vaccine hesitancy is much higher among disability support workers than the general population.

In April this year, we surveyed over 350 disability support workers about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were asked about where they obtained information about the COVID-19 vaccine and what sources of information they trusted, perceptions of their risk of infection, and their intentions for vaccine uptake (vaccine hesitancy) and, for those who were hesitant, the reasons why.

Disability support workers (DSWs) are at greater risk of being infected with COVID-19 because they work with people with disability who may also be supported by other support workers.

It was for these reasons that people with disability living in disability residential settings (group homes) and the disability support workers (DSWs) working in the homes were prioritised in Phase 1a of the vaccine rollout. DSWs not working in group homes are in Phase 1b.

The survey was undertaken before the federal government recommendation that Australians under the age of 50 take the Pfizer and not the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Key findings

The high levels of vaccine hesitancy, concerns about safety, and the lack of trust in the government to  suggests significant work needs to be done to build trust in the vaccine among DSWs. In our previous surveys, support workers described feeling forgotten in the pandemic so their low levels of trust in government is understandable in this context. Overall, DSWs seemed to lack confidence in the vaccine protecting them, the community and the people with disability they support. Here are some key statistics:

  • Overall 21% of DSWs had been offered vaccination
  • 29% of DSWs in group homes had been vaccinated compared with 14% of DSWs who did not work in group homes
  • The main sources of information were government websites (72%), employers (62%) and official news media (62%)
  • GPs and Chief Medical Officers were the most trusted sources of information about the vaccine
  • 50% would get the vaccine as soon as possible
  • 9% would wait until available for a while
  • 11% would only get vaccine if required
  • 13% hadn’t decided either way
  • 17% will not get vaccine

The concerns for delaying the vaccine or refusing it were due to a lack of adequate data around safety, potential side effects and a lack of trust in the government to ensure safe and effective vaccines. Very few were against vaccines in general and the concerns were specific to COVID-19.

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