‘I am not vaccinated’
One reason some hospital staff say they are resisting COVID vaccination is because it’s so new and not yet fully approved by the FDA.
“I am not vaccinated,” said a social services worker for AdventHealth Gordon who asked that her name not be used because she was unauthorized to speak to this news organization and Georgia Health News (who collaborated on this project). “I just have not felt the need to do that at this time.”
The woman said she doesn’t have a problem with vaccines. She gets the flu shot every year. “I’ve been vaccinated all my life,” she said. But she doesn’t view COVID-19 vaccination in the same way.
“I want to see more testing done,” she said. “It took a long time to get a flu vaccine, and we made a COVID vaccine in 6 months. I want to know, before I start putting something into my body, that the testing is done.”
Staff at her hospital were given the option to be vaccinated or wear a mask. She chose the mask.
Many of her coworkers share her feelings, she said.
Mask expert Linsey Marr, PhD, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, Va., said N95 masks and vaccines are both highly effective, but the protection from the vaccine is superior because it is continuous.
“It’s hard to wear an N95 at all times. You have to take it off to eat, for example, in a break room in a hospital. I should point out that you can be exposed to the virus in other buildings besides a hospital – restaurants, stores, people’s homes – and because someone can be infected without symptoms, you could easily be around an infected person without knowing it,” she said.
Eventually, staff at AdventHealth Gordon may get a stronger nudge to get the shots. Chief Medical Officer Joseph Joyave, MD, said AdventHealth asks workers to get flu vaccines or provide the hospital with a reason why they won’t. He expects a similar policy will be adopted for COVID vaccines once they are fully licensed by the FDA.
In the meantime, he does not believe that the hospital is putting patients at risk with its low vaccination rate. “We continue to use PPE, masking in all clinical areas, and continue to screen daily all employees and visitors,” he said.
AdventHealth, the 12th largest hospital system in the nation with 49 hospitals, has at least 20 hospitals with vaccination rates lower than 50%, according to HHS data.
Other hospital systems have approached hesitation around the COVID vaccines differently.
When infectious disease experts at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville realized early on that many of their workers felt unsure about the vaccines, they set out to provide a wealth of information.
“There was a lot of hesitancy and skepticism,” said William Schaffner, MD, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt. So the infectious disease division put together a multifaceted program including Q&As, educational sessions, and one-on-one visits with employees “from the custodians all the way up to the C-Suite,” he said.
Today, HHS data shows the hospital is 83% vaccinated. Dr. Schaffner thinks the true number is probably higher, about 90%. “We’re very pleased with that,” he said.
In his experience with flu vaccinations, it was extremely difficult in the first year to get workers to take flu shots. The second year it was easier. By the third year it was humdrum, he said, because it had become a cultural norm.
Dr. Schaffner expects winning people over to the COVID vaccines will follow a similar course, but “we’re not there yet,” he said.