The NPR headline reads: “Some healthcare workers are hesitant about getting the Covid-19 Vaccine.”
The story, based on a new poll conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation, may seem troubling. After all, if a healthcare worker is worried about the vaccine, maybe I should be too, right?
Yet, it helps to understand that the phrase “healthcare worker” encompasses a lot of people, including people that have no or very limited medical education and who aren’t responsible for any sort of serious medical or health-related activity, like the diagnosis and treatment of sick people. And if you dig down into the methodology of the Kaiser poll, you find that this poll was conducted by phone and those who have a “healthcare worker in the home” were considered healthcare workers for purposes of the poll. In other words, your 90-year old grandma could be considered a “healthcare worker” if she lives with your mom, a doctor or a nurse.
As for this category being imprecise and bloated by nature, that’s because everyone who works in a hospital or a medical facility can call themselves a healthcare worker. It’s simply a catchall phrase to capture those who work in the healthcare field. It isn’t designed to indicate anyone’s role within that system or their expertise in a certain medical field.
For instance, the woman checking you in at your doctor’s office is a “healthcare worker.” The man who works for the hospital directing traffic in the basement parking lot is also a healthcare worker. The person with a two-year associates degree in physical therapy who is helping a patient stretch their muscles is a healthcare worker. The candy striper bringing patients their low-salt soup for lunch is a healthcare worker as is the cook in the hospital kitchen who made the bland soup.
These people are all critical to a hospital or a medical office working smoothly and properly and their essential to the good treatment of patients. Without support staff everyone would suffer from lack of care and disorganization. But when a headline says “healthcare workers” are hesitant, many reading it might immediately and understandably picture a doctor or a nurse—someone with knowledge and training of disease and immunology.
The media is no longer in the business of reporting facts. Instead, major media outlets stoke fears to generate clicks. For average Americans, it’s better to be skeptical of scary headlines, not vaccine safety!