Some Health-Care Workers Are Still Saying No to a Covid-19 Vaccine

Eufemia Didonato

Officials from Ohio said recently that 60% of nursing-home staff so far haven’t elected to take the vaccine. In New York,

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

said this month that state officials expect 30% of health-care workers offered the vaccine will ultimately turn it down. Two-thirds of the staff at a Florida hospital refused the vaccine this month, leaving so many unused doses that the facility started giving away shots to the general public.

The hesitancy among health-care workers concerns public-health officials who expected America’s front-line workers to serve as a model for others.

“Please get vaccinated,”

Anthony Fauci,

who is serving as President Biden’s chief medical adviser for the Covid-19 pandemic, said in a video message to health-care providers. “It’s important to protect yourselves, to protect your family, but as important, symbolically, as health-care providers, to show confidence in the vaccine so that other people in this country follow suit.”

In a survey of 1,563 respondents conducted in January by researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation, 79% of U.S. adults who haven’t yet been vaccinated say they would be likely to turn to a doctor, nurse or other health-care provider when deciding whether to get a vaccination.

Meanwhile, 28% of 128 health-care workers in the Kaiser survey said they want to wait and see how the vaccine is working for other people before getting it themselves. While they weren’t the most resistant group the foundation studied, their outsize influence over whether members of the general public would choose to get the vaccine concerns public-health officials.

Surveys of vaccine skepticism of broader populations have shown that people have become less hesitant as they see others vaccinated.

Some health-care workers say they’ve passed up the shot for altruistic reasons, believing that others should get it first. Several health-care systems said they have struggled to persuade female employees to get vaccinated due to a lack of data about the vaccines’ impact on pregnancy. Other health-care workers say while they want to encourage others to get vaccinated, when it comes to their own health, they are still wary.

“As I was getting my first shot, I asked the two nurses who were administering it to me how they felt when they got the shot. And they were on the side of waiting. That scared me a little bit, but I went through with it,” said

Charles Smith II,

chief financial officer at Vibrant Health in Kansas City, Kan.

At the system of clinics where Mr. Smith works, about 30% of the staff have decided against getting the vaccine to this point, according to Vibrant Health’s chief executive,

Patrick Sallee.

Mr. Smith said he felt uncomfortable with the speed of the process and the lack of long-term data, but news that a more highly transmissible virus variant was spreading made him take the leap. “There is an expectation for the health industry to lead other industries to say this thing is safe and lead by example,” he said. “I feel like I’m shaking the dice, really.”

Mr. Smith, CFO at a health-clinic system, and Dr. Jackson-Smith, a dentist, felt reluctant about a Covid-19 vaccine but decided to lead by example and get the shot.



Photo:

Katie Currid for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Smith’s wife, Aniika Jackson-Smith, a dentist, said she also hesitated to get a vaccine because she doesn’t feel enough is known about their long-term effects. She said she finally decided to make an appointment to get the first shot in late January because she feels a responsibility as a health-care provider not to discourage others from getting it.

“My mind isn’t really changed,” she said. “But I guess in order for us to get past this, people are just going to have to take the vaccine or we’ll just be here forever.”

Heidi Arthur,

chief campaign development officer at the Ad Council, which has been running a large-scale public-service education effort about the Covid-19 vaccines, said getting health-care workers on board wasn’t originally part of the plan.

“It was surprising, the level of hesitancy,” she said.

Covid-19 Vaccine’s Last Mile

Instead of health-care workers lining up, the Ad Council found themselves pulling together a diverse group of leaders within the industry, including Dr. Fauci, to educate other health-care workers about the vaccines and address their concerns.

For Susan Izzo, an adult nurse practitioner in Connecticut, her initial hesitancy was because she felt her patients deserved the vaccine before her. Ultimately, her patients persuaded her to get the shots, she said, so that she could be healthy to protect them.

“I didn’t feel like it was my turn, even though as a health-care worker it is my turn. I would have gladly given up my vaccine to my 55-year-old patient who just had a lung transplant,” she said.

Deborah Burger,

a president at National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the U.S., said many nurses felt information about vaccines that came out during the Trump administration was politicized and wanted to learn more so they could decide for themselves whether it was safe. Education and more information, she said, is increasing uptake among nurses.

Dawn Allen,

vice president of patient services at Huron Regional Medical Center in South Dakota, said at first less than 50% of their workforce chose to be vaccinated. After sitting down with staff to answer their questions, particularly around concerns of infertility, she said they are up to 76% of staff choosing to be vaccinated over a two-week period.

Still, some nurses say they have no intention of getting vaccinated.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

Should health-care workers be forced to take the vaccine? Why or why not? Join the conversation below.

Cleon Charles,

a traveling nurse who has been working in Covid-19 hot spots throughout the pandemic, said she would never get the vaccine and has discouraged her daughters and parents from getting it, despite having had Covid-19 herself.

She cited a general mistrust of the pharmaceutical industry, among other concerns, and the death of baseball legend Hank Aaron, who publicly received the Covid-19 vaccine in early January. Medical officials say the baseball legend died of natural causes, but his death has been taken up by antivaccination leaders, including

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

, who called the death “part of a wave of suspicious deaths among elderly closely following administration of #COVID #vaccines,” on Twitter.

“I don’t want it,” Ms. Charles said. “I’ll take my chances and my vitamins.”

Write to Julie Wernau at [email protected]

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