Nearly a quarter of UK healthcare workers are hesitant about having regular Covid-19 vaccinations, a study finds.

Using data from the United Kingdom Research study into Ethnicity and Covid-19 outcomes in Healthcare workers (UK-REACH), researchers conducted a cross-sectional analysis to examine attitudes towards a regular Covid-19 vaccine among almost 5,500 people.

Participants in the nationwide longitudinal study were asked whether they would be willing to have a Covid-19 vaccine regularly, as with the current seasonal flu vaccination programme, if it was advised.

They could respond on a four-point scale from ‘definitely yes’ to ‘definitely no’, with researchers classifying respondents as hesitant if they answered anything other than ‘definitely yes’.

The study, published in BMC Medicine, found 23.5% of participants were hesitant and some groups were more likely to express hesitancy, including younger people, those from black ethnic groups and anyone who had previously been infected with Covid-19.

‘Those who received influenza vaccination in the previous two seasons were over five times less likely to report hesitancy for regular SARS-CoV-2 vaccination than those not vaccinated against influenza in either season,’ the authors wrote.

Healthcare workers who trusted official sources of vaccine information, such as NHS websites, were also less likely to report hesitancy for a regular vaccination programme.

However, those who had been exposed to information advocating against vaccination from friends and family were more likely to be hesitant.

‘Family and friends of healthcare workers may influence decisions about regular vaccination. This implies that working with healthcare workers and their social networks to ally concerns about SARS-CoV-2 vaccination could improve uptake in a regular vaccination programme,’ the authors wrote.

The findings related to ethnic differences in hesitancy were particularly concerning given the higher likelihood of infection and severe Covid-19 in ethnic minority groups, the researchers said.

‘Previous work has suggested that a lack of trust in the government and pharmaceutical companies due to historic unethical research practices in vaccine studies, institutional racism, lack of confidence in the vaccine and/or increased concern of side effects following vaccination may contribute [to vaccine hesitancy in ethnic minority groups],’ the study authors wrote.

‘Our findings should be used to improve future interventional research studies aiming to develop and evaluate tools for reducing vaccine hesitancy in healthcare workers and resource planning and policies aimed at improving and maintaining SARS-CoV-2 vaccine uptake within healthcare organisations.’

Earlier this week, NHS Employers encouraged frontline healthcare workers to get both the Covid-19 and flu vaccinations this autumn.

Some staff would be able book a Covid-19 vaccine through their employer or appointments were available via the national booking service or through the online vaccination walk-in finder.

However, NHS England has said that it does not have the funding to offer community pharmacy staff flu vaccinations on the NHS.

Last year, primary care staff were included in the NHS flu scheme and were eligible for a free jab.