Understanding and Reducing Vaccine Hesitancy Among Nurses

Lynne Moronski, MPA, BA, BS, RN, CTR

It was an unexpected conversation-stopper. Back in 2018, Lynne Moronski (MPA, BA, BS, RN, CTR) was chatting with a group of fellow nurses and mentioned how excited she was to be vaccinating patients at a local flu clinic. Their response—a long, uncomfortable silence.

Finally, one of the nurses explained that she and the others had, in fact, left their jobs at a hospital because administering vaccinations was mandatory there. “We don’t believe in it,” she told Moronski. Later, another nurse pulled Moronski aside and told her that vaccine hesitancy in their profession was, in fact, quite common. “I was surprised that people trained in evidence-based medicine and science would feel this way,” Moronski says.

In early 2020, when it became clear that COVID-19 would pose a significant threat in the U.S. and that a vaccine would be critical in combating it, Moronski began to explore the subject of nurses’ vaccine hesitancy and found that research confirmed the phenomenon. For instance, she notes, two separate studies conducted in 2020 put the percentage of nurses willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine at roughly 34 percent, compared with 80 percent of physicians and scientists.

As a PhD student at Rutgers School of Nursing—who joined the program in 2020—Moronski has decided to make nurses’ vaccine hesitancy the topic of her dissertation. She’s excited to develop her research expertise. “Instead of just implementing other people’s research, I want to do my own,” she says.

With a MPA in health policy and management and a BS in Nursing under her belt—from New York University and Rutgers School of Nursing, respectively—as well as administrative experience at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, Moronski seeks to take an active role in helping shape health care policy.

Moronski points out that nurses are widely known as the most trusted of all health care professionals; and their heartfelt endorsement of the COVID vaccine, she feels, could go a long way toward convincing others to get vaccinated. But to uncover ways to counter their hesitancy, she’ll need to determine why so many nurses feel the way they do. “You have to examine the specific reasons for hesitancy and then tailor solutions to the data,” she says.

Moronski will begin her research this summer, surveying nurses to determine the root causes of their leeriness both to vaccinate and to get vaccinated. She’s especially interested in differences among groups of nurses. For example, she cites a 2019 study showing that nurses with a DNP degree are the least vaccine hesitant, even compared to those holding PhD and BSN degrees.

Convincing nurses to embrace vaccination, she says, will be important long after the current pandemic is medical history. “After clean water,” she explains, “nothing works better at reducing death, disability, disease, and inequality than vaccination.”