Since its characterization in December 2019, the novel coronavirus, SARS-COV-2, has been responsible for more than 6.3 million deaths worldwide. In the United States alone, there have been over 84 million cases, with case numbers continuing to rise. Despite the herculean vaccination effort since emergency approval in December 2020, only 61% of eligible Americans were fully vaccinated 1 year later. We set out to investigate the rate of vaccine uptake among solid-organ transplant recipients (SOTR), a high-risk population, and to understand the attitudes and perceptions that motivate vaccine hesitancy.
The questionnaire was designed by 5 members of our study team. We initially surveyed an online focus group (n = 9) comprising heart and lung transplant recipients followed within our practice at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). Our goal was to evaluate the understandability and appropriateness of the content and response options.
We then emailed the survey to 1718 SOTR in May 2021 who were actively followed within our transplant program. Of the 283 respondents, 49% had received a renal transplant, 34% a liver transplant, and the remainder were recipients of lung (8%), pancreas, or multiple organ transplants. In addition to vaccination status, the survey queried perceptions about the risk of COVID-19 and vaccine efficacy/safety.
Of respondents, 265 (93.6%) were already vaccinated and only 9 (3%) indicated that they were unwilling to be vaccinated. The remaining 3.4% of respondents were not yet vaccinated but indicated a willingness to do so in the near future. Among the reasons cited for vaccine hesitancy among those 9 patients were a perceived lack of efficacy, a lack of sufficient testing/evidence, and concerns about vaccine safety. As illustrated in Figure 1, an overall high degree of confidence in vaccine safety and efficacy was noted, even as concern for contracting or spreading the virus remained low.
Our population showed a remarkable willingness to undergo vaccination for COVID-19 at a rate far above that of the general population. We believe that formalized educational offerings as well as the high level of trust in provider opinion contributed to the excellent vaccine uptake rate. However, the overall response rate of 16.5% does raise the concern of response bias and represents a limitation to this study. Despite this low response rate, our data are in line with similar studies showing 91% acceptance in liver transplant recipients after education.1
To our knowledge, our study is the first of its kind among SOTR in the United States. Our study demonstrates a rate of vaccine hesitancy similar to published Italian2 and Australian3 studies (n = 190 and 473, respectively). However, a similar study from Fundan University in China showed nearly 73% rate of vaccine refusal among their 813 participants.4 These differences may represent differing levels of public trust in the various regionally available vaccines.
DOI : 10.6002/ect.2022.0246
From the 1University of Maryland Medical Center Department of Internal Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland; the 2University of Maryland Medical Center Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Baltimore, Maryland; and the 3University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Department of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, Dallas, Texas, USA
Acknowledgements: The authors have not received any funding or grants in support of the presented research or for the preparation of this work and have no declarations of potential conflicts of interest.
Corresponding author: Ryan C. Jackson, University of Maryland Medical Center Department of Internal Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA
Figure 1. Patient Attitudes Regarding COVID-19 and COVID-19 Vaccines