A Swedish study showed that bus drivers and those in higher contact jobs faced greater risk of hospitalization for COVID-19 at the end of 2020.
Researchers uncovered a 98% increased risk of hospitalization for tram and bus drivers, a 72% increased risk for after-school staff, and similar increased risk for nurses, teachers and child care givers.
The study also showed that female specialist physicians were at much higher risk than male specialist physicians.
Bus drivers rank high on that list, with double the risk of being hospitalized compared to lower-contact jobs.
Several occupations in education and health care were also at greater risk of serious illness, the new study shows.
"When looking at specific occupations, interesting gender differences emerge," said study author Maria Åberg, professor of general medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy and faculty of medicine at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
"Among women, there are increased risks for specialist doctors, nurses, midwives and preschool staff. Male occupations that carry higher risk include bus and tram drivers and security guards. This also reflects the fact that we have a gender-segregated labor market,” Åberg said in a university news release.
Researchers used data from several different Swedish registers, with a total of more than 550,000 cases of confirmed COVID infection and more than 5,900 cases of severe COVID infection to assess the link between occupation and hospitalization for COVID.
They looked at hospitalizations between October 2020 and December 2020 and then cross-referenced the hospitalizations with participants' occupations the previous November.
Occupations in which the patients worked closely with others were compared to those that had little contact with colleagues or the public.
Bus and tram drivers had a 98% increased risk of hospitalization for severe COVID infection. Staff at after-school clubs had a 72% increased risk. Registered nurses had a 68% increased risk. Elementary schoolteachers and preschool child caregivers also had a 60% increased risk.
Authors of the study stressed that the individual risk to workers in a given profession being hospitalized for COVID overall remains very low because the number of affected people in the each occupational group is small.
The study also uncovered a 53% increased risk of hospitalization among specialist doctors of both genders, but when they narrowed the focus solely to female specialists, the increase in risk was significantly higher, at 105%.
The work highlights the need for improved risk assessment and preventive measures in these job sectors, the authors noted.
"The workplace is also an important arena for informing about and carrying out vaccination," said lead author Kjell Toren, senior professor of occupational and environmental medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg.
"Over the course of our research, we have come to the strong conclusion that workplaces or employers need to be involved in getting these high-risk occupations access to vaccination, for example by allowing them to be vaccinated during working hours or by organizing vaccination sessions at their place of work. And occupational health care has an important role to play in making this happen," Toren said in the release.
Vaccination in high-risk workplaces during working hours would reduce risks, said Åberg.
“This applies in particular to bus and tram drivers and preschool staff. Health care workers were usually offered vaccination during working hours, but perhaps additional measures could have increased vaccination uptake," Åberg said.
The study was published recently in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. The Karolinska Institute collaborated on the research.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID vaccination.
SOURCE: University of Gothenburg, news release, Aug. 23, 2023
COVID-19 vaccination is important, but crucial for people in people-facing occupations, such as transportation drivers, teachers, child care workers and health care staff.