The desperately awaited coronavirus vaccination campaign in the United States meets resistance from an unlikely quarter: A surprising number of healthcare workers who have seen firsthand the death and misery inflicted by COVID-19 are refusing vaccines.
This is happening in nursing homes and, to a lesser extent, in hospitals, with employees voicing what experts say are unfounded fears about the side effects of vaccines being developed at record speed. More than three weeks after the start of the campaign, some places are seeing up to 80% of the staff retained.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be a guinea pig,” said Dr. Stephen Noble, a 42-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon in Portland, Ore., Who postpones vaccination. “At the end of the day, as a scientist, I just want to see what the data shows. And give me all the data. “
Alarmed by the phenomenon, some directors have suspended everything from free breakfasts at Waffle House to a raffle for a car for employees to roll up their sleeves. Some states have threatened to let others walk past healthcare workers in the queue for vaccines.
“It’s way too low. It’s extremely low, ”said Neil Pruitt, CEO of PruittHealth, which operates around 100 long-term care homes in the South, where fewer than 3 in 10 workers have offered the vaccine so far have accepted it.
Many medical facilities, from Florida to Washington state, have boasted of near universal acceptance of vaccines, and workers proudly plastered photos of themselves on social media receiving the vaccine. Elsewhere, however, the reader has stumbled.
Although the federal government has not released any data on how many people have been offered the vaccines have taken them, glimpses of resistance have emerged across the country.
In Illinois, a great divide has opened in state-run veterans’ homes between residents and staff. The gap was most severe at the home of veterans in Manteno, where 90% of residents were vaccinated but only 18% of staff.
In rural Ashland, Alabama, about 90 of some 200 workers at the Clay County hospital have yet to agree to be vaccinated, even though the place is so overrun with COVID-19 patients that oxygen is low and beds have been added to the intensive care unit. , divided by a plastic sheet.
The pullback comes amid the deadliest phase of the outbreak to date, with a death toll of more than 350,000, and it could hamper government efforts to immunize somewhere between 70% and 85% of the population American to obtain “collective immunity”.
Administrators and public health officials have expressed the hope that more health workers will choose to be vaccinated when they see their colleagues getting vaccinated without problems.
Oregon doctor Noble said he would wait until April or May to get the shot. He said it was vital for public health officials not to exaggerate what they know about vaccines. This is especially important, he said, for blacks like him who are wary of government medical advice because of past failures and abuse, such as the infamous Tuskegee experiment.
Medical journals have published detailed vaccine data, and the Food and Drug Administration has made its analysis public. But misinformation about injections has spread widely online, including lies that they cause fertility problems.
Stormy Tatom, 30, an intensive care nurse at Beaumont Hospital, Texas, said she decided not to get the vaccine at this time “due to the unknown long-term side effects.”
“I would say at least half of my coworkers feel the same,” Tatom said.
There have been no signs of widespread serious side effects from the vaccines, and scientists say the drugs have been rigorously tested in tens of thousands and checked by independent experts.
States have started to step up the pressure. The governor of South Carolina has given healthcare workers until Jan. 15 to get vaccinated or “go to the back of the line.” Georgia’s top health official has allowed some vaccines to be diverted to other frontline workers, including firefighters and police, out of frustration at their slow adoption.
“There is a vaccine available, but it is literally in the freezer,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr Kathleen Toomey. “This is unacceptable. We have lives to save. “
Nursing homes were among the preferred institutions for vaccines because the virus has terrible them. Residents and long-term care staff account for about 38% of deaths from COVID-19 in the country.
In West Virginia, only about 55% of nursing home workers accepted the vaccines when they were first offered last month, according to Martin Wright, who heads the West Virginia Health Care Association.
“It’s a race against social media,” Wright said of tackling vaccine lies.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said only 40% of state nursing home workers had been vaccinated. North Carolina’s top public health official estimated more than half refused the vaccine there.
SavaSeniorCare has donated money to 169 long-term care homes in its 20-state network to pay for gift cards, socially distant holidays, or other incentives. But so far, data from about a third of its households shows that 55% of workers have refused the vaccine.
CVS and Walgreens, which have been hired by a majority of nursing homes in the United States to administer COVID-19 vaccines, have not released details on the acceptance rate. CVS said residents have agreed to be vaccinated at an “encouraging” rate, but that “the initial participation rate among staff is low,” in part because of efforts to stagger when employees receive their vaccines.
Some establishments have vaccinated workers in stages so that staff are not suddenly sidelined if they suffer from minor side effects, which can include fever and body aches.
The reluctance is not surprising, given the mixed message from political leaders and misinformation online, said Dr Wilbur Chen, a University of Maryland professor specializing in vaccine science.
He noted that healthcare workers represent a wide range of jobs and backgrounds and said they are not necessarily more informed than the general public.
“They also don’t know what to believe,” Chen said. But he said he expects the reluctance to ease as more people are vaccinated and public health officials get their message out.
Some places have already seen turnarounds, such as the Notre-Dame-du-Lac Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“The biggest thing that has helped us gain the trust of our staff has been watching other staff get vaccinated, be fine, walk out of the room, you know, don’t grow a third ear, and so on. ‘is really like an avalanche, ”said Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine O’Neal. “The first hundred we created another 300 wanted the vaccine.”
Associated Press writers Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this report; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans; Candice Choi in New York; Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Bryan Anderson in Raleigh, North Carolina.