Impact of the COVID-19 vaccination mandate on the primary care workforce and differences between rural and urban settings to inform future policy decision-making

PLoS One. 2023 Jun 27;18(6):e0287553. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0287553. eCollection 2023.


Introduction: Little is known about the impact of mandated vaccination policies on the primary care clinic workforce in the United States or differences between rural and urban settings, especially for COVID-19. With the continued pandemic and an anticipated increase in novel disease outbreaks and emerging vaccines, healthcare systems need additional information on how vaccine mandates impact the healthcare workforce to aid in future decision-making.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey of Oregon primary care clinic staff between October 28, 2021- November 18, 2021, following implementation of a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare personnel. The survey consisted of 19 questions that assessed the clinic-level impacts of the vaccination mandate. Outcomes included job loss among staff, receipt of an approved vaccination waiver, new vaccination among staff, and the perceived significance of the policy on clinic staffing. We used univariable descriptive statistics to compare outcomes between rural and urban clinics. The survey also included three open-ended questions that were analyzed using a template analysis approach.

Results: Staff from 80 clinics across 28 counties completed surveys, representing 38 rural and 42 urban clinics. Clinics reported job loss (46%), use of vaccination waivers (51%), and newly vaccinated staff (60%). Significantly more rural clinics (compared to urban) utilized medical and/or religious vaccination waivers (71% vs 33%, p = 0.04) and reported significant impact on clinic staffing (45% vs 21%, p = 0.048). There was also a non-significant trend toward more job loss for rural compared to urban clinics (53% vs. 41%, p = 0.547). Qualitative analysis highlighted a decline in clinic morale, small but meaningful detriments to patient care, and mixed opinions of the vaccination mandate.

Conclusions: Oregon's COVID-19 vaccination mandate increased healthcare personnel vaccination rates, yet amplified staffing challenges with disproportionate impacts in rural areas. Staffing impacts in primary care clinics were greater than reported previously in hospital settings and with other vaccination mandates. Mitigating primary care staffing impacts, particularly in rural areas, will be critical in response to the continued pandemic and novel viruses in the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Vaccines / therapeutic use
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Primary Health Care
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Vaccination
  • Vaccines*
  • Workforce


  • COVID-19 Vaccines
  • Vaccines