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Among the U.S.’s estimated 53 million family caregivers that so many people are dependent on to access medical care, nearly 36 percent in rural communities will refuse the vaccine themselves and 31 percent indicated they will not take older adults they care for to receive the COVID-19 vaccine — more than double the 16 percent of respondents who indicated similar sentiments in suburban and urban settings.  

That’s according to new data from SCAN Health Plan and conducted by Wakefield Research, which surveyed 1,000 U.S. family caregivers with oversamples for 400 Hispanic and 400 Black respondents.

The researchers also found that 81 percent of family caregivers in rural areas doubt the vaccine is safe, with 28 percent answering that they are “not at all confident” in the vaccines safety. That contrasts sharply with the 9 percent of urban and suburban peers lacking confidence.  

Health Evolution Editor-in-Chief Tom Sullivan interviewed Romilla Batra, MD, Chief Medical Officer at SCAN Health Plan about what the results suggest, the impact on herd immunity, and when it will be safe to reopen the economy.  

Health Evolution: What impact do you envision the findings about rural family caregivers being so hesitant will have as the nation strives to vaccinate as many people as possible and achieve herd immunity?  

Batra: We worry about the trends because many people in our patient population are dependent on their caregivers and those people will have a barrier in terms of getting the vaccine. These are people with higher risk of morbidity and mortality, so that is very worrisome for us. Not only do we have to think about vaccine hesitancy, we also have to look through the lens of caregivers to convince them to get it themselves because they are in a position to infect the people they care for.  

For SCAN, herd immunity is important because the folks we are worried about are older adults more susceptible to COVID-19 infections. If I get infected, I might have 6 or 7 bad days, but I wouldn’t likely be hospitalized or die. Caregivers might also have less severe consequences, but if you look at the population we serve it’s critical those people and the people who care for them get vaccinated.  

Tom Sullivan

Tom Sullivan brings more than two decades in editing and journalism experience to Health Evolution. Sullivan most recently served as Editor-in-Chief at HIMSS, leading Healthcare IT News, Health Finance, MobiHealthNews. Prior to HIMSS Media, Sullivan was News Editor of IDG’s InfoWorld, directing a dozen reporters’ coverage for the weekly print publication and daily website.