Vaccination at UPMC's South Side clinic. Photo courtesy of UPMC.

Healthcare workers who have been vaccinated for Covid-19 have not shared much about it on social media, despite the impact that could have on increasing vaccination rates, according to a study released Wednesday by Pitt’s School of Public Health.

Beth Hoffman, postdoctoral associate at Pitt Public Health and the lead author, and Assistant Professor of Public Health Jaime Sidani worked with a team of scientists to survey hundreds of healthcare workers at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital about Covid-19 vaccination. They then compared those responses to thousands of tweets to look for similarities or differences of opinion. More than 93 percent of the 511 workers who responded to the survey reported receiving at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only about one-third of them said they had posted about receiving the vaccine on social media. 

“In the survey, healthcare workers gave us really compelling, heartwarming reasons why they got vaccinated, but we didn’t see a lot of that data on social media,” says Hoffman. 

In general, the sentiment toward the Covid-19 vaccine from healthcare workers on Twitter was 95 percent positive or neutral, says the study. But only a small percentage of the positive posts included a personal narrative. 

Previous research from the University of Michigan shows that social media posts from trusted healthcare professionals that included a personal narrative were most effective at motivating others to take action related to their own health. That idea is part of what motivated the study, says Hoffman. 

“I think healthcare providers or people, in general, might be a little nervous about posting on social media because there may have been some stories about anti-vaccine activists who may come across the post and leave negative comments,” says Hoffman.  

The study took place from April to June 2021 and defined a healthcare worker as anyone working in the hospital to provide for patients, including nurses, cafeteria staff, therapists, security personnel and physicians. The researchers chose Western Psychiatric Hospital specifically because of the variety of personnel there and because the patients there are often stigmatized, says study coauthor Antoine Douaihy, professor of psychiatry and medicine at Pitt. 

“Covid-19 vaccination uptake among our patients is low because of historical and cultural issues that get in the way of people accepting the vaccine,” Douaihy says. “Learning about the motivations of the health care workers who interact with them can teach us how to connect and build trust with patients.”

The study, published in the Journal of Community Health, is the first to analyze both healthcare worker sentiment via survey and social media posts at the same time. 

The goal of the research is to encourage sharing reputable, valid health information online, says Hoffman. 

“Anti-vaccine rhetoric on social media is not new, but there has been some shift in terms of the messages and the political sentiment behind them,” says Hoffman. “And that’s something we are going to continue to look at.”

Talking with someone about the Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t have to be a time-consuming lecture, says coauthor Cassandra Boness, research assistant professor at the University of New Mexico.

“In fact, that probably won’t work,” Boness says. “Rather, hearing their concerns, sharing personal experiences and giving thoughtful feedback that validates and explores those concerns — something that can take less than 10 minutes — is far more powerful.” 

Cristina Holtzer is NEXTpittsburgh's Digital Editor. When she’s not laughing too hard at TikTok, Crissy can be found working on her novel or playing the Sims. Read her work in Everyday Health, The Kitchn, Pittsburgh Magazine, Inc and more.