Rheumatic disease patient decision-making about COVID-19 vaccination: a qualitative analysis

Yomei P. Shaw, Sara Hustek, Nina Nguyen, Makenzie Starlin, Kristin Wipfler, Beth I. Wallace, Kaleb Michaud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Although patients with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs) are at increased risk for adverse outcomes of COVID-19 illness compared to healthy controls, they also have lower rates of willingness to be vaccinated. Previous research has identified reasons for vaccine hesitancy among patients with RMDs (such as concerns about side effects and flares), but little is known about what these reasons mean in the context of patients’ lives, or how vaccine decision making is experienced from a patient perspective. Our objective was to describe decision-making about COVID-19 vaccination among RMD patients. Methods: Participants in a RMD registry were invited to complete monthly online surveys regarding COVID-19 vaccination from March-June 2021. We qualitatively analyzed comments from two open-ended survey questions reporting general experiences with vaccination and side effects. Comments were coded for attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccination, vaccine access, rheumatologic medication management around vaccination, and vaccine side effects. Themes were identified for the process and context of COVID-19 vaccine decisions, patient motivations for receiving or avoiding vaccination, and consistency of peri-vaccine medication management with current ACR guidelines. Results: We analyzed 710 comments from 537 respondents. Commenting respondents had a mean age of 64 years, were 87% female, 94% white, and 93% received/intended to receive ≥ 1 dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Desire for protection and a return to normal routines motivated some commenters to get vaccinated, while concerns about vaccine side effects motivated others to delay or avoid vaccination. Several commenters reported disease flares following vaccination. Some commenters did not consult their providers about vaccination and failed to withhold immunomodulatory medications during vaccination, while others withheld medications more conservatively than recommended by current ACR guidelines, either on their own or directed by their provider. Conclusions: While most commenters were vaccine-accepting, challenges to COVID-19 vaccine uptake in the RMD population may include fears of side effects, including worsened RMD symptoms, and perceptions that vaccination is unnecessary. Addressing these concerns and beliefs may be critical for promoting vaccination in this population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number76
JournalBMC Rheumatology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Medication adherence
  • Qualitative research
  • Rheumatic diseases
  • Vaccines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology


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