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Too Many Americans Still Mistrust the COVID-19 Vaccines. Here’s Why

Here’s What’s Behind Americans’ Uneasy Relationship With Vaccines
BY JEFFREY KLUGER  JANUARY 5, 2021 9:36 AM EST
Source: Time

If you’re feeling impatient waiting your turn for a COVID-19 vaccine, here’s a little good news: Angela Padgett will gladly give you her place in line—at least for now. Padgett, president of a day spa in Raleigh, N.C., is under no illusions about the mortal danger the pandemic poses to herself, her family and the world writ large—indeed, she had COVID-19 back in July. But as for the vaccine that is supposed to put an end to all of the suffering at last? Not today.

“I am a little bit hesitant,” she says. “I can appreciate President Trump trying to get this moving fast and I’ve taken pretty much every vaccine [for other diseases]. But I think it was rushed through very early, very quickly. So I would like a little more data.”

Padgett is not alone. According to a December survey undertaken by the Pew Research Center, nearly 40% of Americans say they will definitely not or probably not get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them. Gallup polls put the number at 37%. That’s bad news not just for the vaccine refusers themselves but for the public as a whole. Experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had previously concluded that achieving herd immunity—the point at which a population is sufficiently vaccinated that a spreading virus can’t find enough new hosts—would require anywhere from 60% to 70% of Americans to take the vaccines. But lately, he and others have been inching that number upward, now estimating that herd immunity could require as much as 85% vaccine coverage.

The holdouts have multiple reasons for their reluctance. There are, of course, the dead-enders in the anti-vax community, for whom no vaccine is safe or acceptable. There is, too, a faction peddling conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccines in particular. As one falsely goes, the disease is caused by 5G cell towers, so a vaccine would be useless against it. (The rumor has been repeatedly debunked on Snopes.com and other sites.) Another spuriously claims the vaccines are a plot by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—or, alternately, Elon Musk—to inject microchips into Americans. That last one—debunked herehere and elsewhere—has gained enough traction in the fever-swamp corners of the Internet that it prompted a rare acknowledgment from Bill Gates himself. “It doesn’t help that there are false conspiracy theories about vaccines, including some that involve Melinda and me,” he wrote in a foundation letter he released on Dec. 22.

But most people in the COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy camp are more rational, more measured—informed enough not to believe the crazy talk, but worried enough not to want to be at the head of the line for a new vaccine. “For first responders and for older people with underlying conditions it’s a godsend,” says Padgett. “But I do believe this was rushed. I’m reasonably healthy. Six months to a year just to get more data on it is what I’d need to be vaccinated.”


For all the urgency to get as many vaccines into as many arms as possible, the reluctance of such a large swath of the population to be among the early adopters is not completely without merit.

“I think it’s reasonable to be skeptical about anything you put into your body, including vaccines,” says Dr. Paul Offit, professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and director of its Vaccine Education Center. Coming from Offit, a vocal proponent of universal vaccination and a particular boogeyman of the anti-vax camp, that carries particular weight. He goes further still, acknowledging that the speed with which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed can cause people special concern. “The average length of time it takes to make a vaccine is 15 to 20 years,” he says. “This vaccine was made in a year.”

Then too there is a question of effectiveness. Both of the vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use in the U.S., one from Pfizer-BioNTech and one from Moderna, have what Offit calls “ridiculously high efficacy rates—in the 95% range for all [COVID-19] disease and for Moderna’s product 100% for severe disease.” But in the haste to get the vaccine to market, test subjects have been followed up for only two to three months, so it’s impossible to say with any authority how effective the vaccines will remain at six or nine or 12 months.

Finally there are the side effects. Anaphylaxis—or a severe allergic reaction—is possible with any vaccine, though medical protocols call for people who have received the shot to wait 15 minutes before they leave so that they can be treated if they do have a reaction. More troubling are spotty reports of Bell’s palsy—partial facial paralysis—following COVID-19 vaccinations. But those numbers are exceedingly small. One false Facebook posting purported to be from a nurse in Nashville who got the vaccine and suffered Bell’s palsy, but that too has been debunked, as repeated searches have turned up no nurse in the Tennessee health system under that name. All the same, it sparked outsized fear of a real but minimal risk.

“There were four cases of Bell’s palsy within a month or month and a half in the Pfizer trial out of 22,000 recipients,” Offit says. “So that works out to roughly eight per 10,000 per year.” Such a case count may be low, but it does exceed the average background rate of Bell’s palsy in the general population, which is 1.2 per 10,000 per year, Offit says. Other sources put the incidence as a somewhat higher 2.3 per 10,000.

Armed with numbers like that, however, humans are not always terribly good at calculating risk. On the one hand even an eight in 10,000 chance of contracting facial paralysis does sound scary; on the other hand, about one out every 1,000 American was killed by COVID-19 this past year. The mortal arithmetic here is easy to do—and argues strongly in favor of getting the shots.

So too does the way the vaccines were developed—which is actually not as rushed as the calendar would make it seem. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both use mRNA—or messenger RNA—to prompt the body to produce a coronavirus spike protein, which then triggers an immune response. That is a novel method for making a vaccine, but the basic research was by no means conducted within the last year.

“The technology for the vaccine has actually been in development for more than a decade,” says Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and a state senator in California. Pan has pushed hard over the years for laws mandating vaccines for children to attend school and, like Offit, has earned the animus of the anti-vax community for his efforts. He is just as big a booster of the COVID-19 vaccine—though he would not propose mandates until there are enough doses for everyone to get a shot—and tries to reassure doubters that no matter how soon they get the vaccine, there are a lot of people who went before them.

“I point out to people that when you get the vaccine you’re definitely not the first,” he says, “because there are tens of thousands of people who have been involved with clinical trials.” Health care workers who are already being vaccinated increase that number dramatically—some 2 million have gotten the shot in the U.S. as of this writing.


Offit’s and Pan’s reassurances will surely not assuage everyone, and here demographics play a role. As with so much else in the U.S., vaccines have become a political issue. The Gallup organization has been tracking vaccine attitudes by party since July and has found Democrats consistently more likely to get vaccinated than Independents or Republicans. In a poll taken at the end of November, 75% of Democrats said they would be willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 61% for Independents and 50% for Republicans. Age plays a role too, with willingness to be vaccinated generally tracking susceptibility to the disease. In the December Pew Research Center poll, for example, 75% of adults over 65 reported that they intended to be vaccinated, compared to just 55% under 30.

But nowhere is the difference starker than among racial and ethnic groups, with 83% of Asian-Americans surveyed expressing an intent to be vaccinated, compared to 63% in the Latinx community and 61% among Whites. In Black American respondents, the numbers fall off the table, with just 42% intending to be vaccinated.

This is of a piece with a long history of medical disenfranchisement and much worse. Some of the mistrust goes back as far as the infamous gynecological experiments J. Marion Sims conducted on enslaved women—without anesthetic—in the 19th century; as well the Tuskegee experiment that began in the 1930s and involved decades of studying the progress of syphilis in Black men without informing them that they had the disease or offering them the antibiotics needed to treat it. But the structural inequality and bias continues today.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the death rate from COVID-19 is 2.8 times higher for blacks than it is for whites and the hospitalization rate is 3.7 times higher. Dr. Ala Stanford, a Philadelphia-based pediatric surgeon and founder of the Black Doctors COVID Consortium sees a lot of reasons for that disparity, not least being that in the neighborhoods in which she works, Blacks and other minorities were being tested for COVID-19 at only one-sixth the rate of white communities, which tended to be higher-income, according to data from Drexel University. “[The tests] had to be scheduled from nine-to-five, when most people were at work,” Stanford says. “There were no evening or weekend hours [and] they weren’t accepting children.”

What’s more, Black Americans are disproportionately likely to be front-line or essential workers like home-health aides and are less likely to have the kinds of other jobs that would let them work from home. Less social distancing plus less testing means more sickness and death, which plays into the lived reality for many people that Black lives are valued less than white lives in the U.S. That, in turn, breeds more suspicions of the system as a whole—including of vaccines.

“The main fear I hear [about vaccines] is that someone is injecting coronavirus into my body,” says Stanford. “And I answer in as detailed a way as I can about the mRNA and the protein and how it looks like coronavirus but it’s not.” That kind of clarity, she says, can help a lot.

Offit hears even starker—and more poignant—fears from Blacks. “One particular man did not want to get the vaccine and I asked him why,” Offit says. “He said, ‘because for my race they make a different vaccine.’”

One way Stanford sought to push back against such suspicions was to offer up herself as a living example, getting vaccinated on camera through the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. The local media sent a pool camera and the footage was shown on the evening news. Dr. Brittani James, a professor at the University of Illinois Hospital and executive director of the Institute of Anti-Racism in Medicine, did something similar, streaming her vaccination online.

“I talk until I’m blue in the face,” she says, “but there’s something I think for people to see me or see other Black people getting it that can really do a lot to soothe their fear. Like hey, guess what? If I’m wrong, I’m going down with you.”

Whether that kind of role-modeling and example-setting will work to reduce resistance is impossible to know at the moment, simply because vaccines are still unavailable to the overwhelming share of the population. If you can’t get the shot in the first place, it doesn’t matter how hesitant or receptive you are to it. Offit, who is white, does believe that efforts like James’s, to appeal to members of her own community, can be truly valuable.

“I think if someone like me says something, people are just going to see it as ‘Of course he’d say that,’” Offit says. He cites by way of example the effectiveness of TV ads by the National Medical Association, a professional organization of Black American physicians, showing one Black nurse inoculating another with the COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s subtle,” Offit says, “but they’re trying to create those images.”

Stanford believes Black churches can play a role too. During one of the testing drives she helped organize, church parking lots were used as sites to administer the tests—which helped increase turnout. “We know that in the African-American community, [the church] is a trusted institution,” she says. “Even if you don’t go to church, you know that’s a safe space.”Dr. Ala Stanford receiving her COVID-19 vaccine. Stanford's vaccination was televised in order to promote the safety and efficacy of the shot.Dr. Ala Stanford receiving her COVID-19 vaccine. Stanford’s vaccination was televised in order to promote the safety and efficacy of the shot. Emma Lee
Source: Time
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

In all communities, it helps too if doctors and other authorities listen respectfully to public misgivings about vaccines, explaining and re-explaining the science as frequently and patiently as possible. But there is a burden on the vaccine doubters themselves to be open to the medical truth. “Questions are fine as long as you listen to the answers,” Pan says. “So talk to your doctor, go to sources like the CDC and our incredible mainstream medical organizations. Those are the ones you should be getting information from.”

Adds Stanford: “My belief is that you don’t coerce or convince, you listen to concerns and you understand the fears and are empathetic with people. Then you educate and allow one to make their own choice.”

Pan also sees a role for social media companies, which must better control misinformation on their platforms. Journalists too must step up, avoiding false equivalency or both-sides-ism; there is no need to give equal time to rumor mongers or conspiracy theorists simply to appear balanced.

Ultimately, no vaccine is perfect, and the COVID-19 vaccines do have more questions associated with them than others, because there hasn’t been that much follow-up time since the study volunteers got their shots. But those questions are less about safety than about just how long the shots will prove protective. The truth is that they work.

Another truth, of course, is that for now, in the early stages of the vaccine rollout, masking and social distancing remain the best methods for protecting ourselves and others—and they will be part of our lives for at least many months to come. But slowly, over time, the vaccines will eliminate that need. What’s required now is trust in the power of the shots or, as Stanford puts it, in “faith and facts over fear.” Pandemics eventually stop raging. It’s vaccines that hasten that end game—and save millions of lives in the process.

WRITE TO JEFFREY KLUGER AT JEFFREY.KLUGER@TIME.COM.

As the article states the average time to actually develop a vaccine or new drug is 15 – 20 years. This vaccine has be developed in under a year. Why do you think people are hesitant around the world to take the COVID 19 vaccine? How often have pharmaceutical companies been fined for the drugs they develop and why? How effective or ineffective has the FDA been in protecting the public at large from predatory drugs and drug epidemics? Why? Why not?

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‘I’m not an anti-vaxxer, but…’ US health workers’ vaccine hesitancy raises alarm

Coronavirus

With up to 40% of frontline workers in LA county refusing Covid-19 inoculation experts warn that understanding and persuasion are needed

Amanda Holpuch

Amanda Holpuch in New York @holpuch
Sun 10 Jan 2021 03.00 EST
Last modified on Sun 10 Jan 2021 10.07 EST
Source: The Guardian

Registered nurse Valerie Massaro administers the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to health care workers at the Hartford HealthCare at the Hartford Convention Center in Hartford, Connecticut on January 4, 2021.
 Registered nurse Valerie Massaro administers the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to health care workers at the Hartford Convention Center in Hartford, Connecticut, this week. Photograph: Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Susan, a critical care nurse based in Alaska, has been exposed to Covid-19 multiple times and has watched scores of people die from the illness. But she did not want to get the vaccination when she learned it would soon be available.

“I am not an anti-vaxxer, I have every vaccine known to man, my flu shot, I always sign up right there, October 1, jab me,” said Susan, who didn’t want to give her last name for fear of retaliation. “But for this one, why do I have to be a guinea pig?”

The two authorized vaccines, made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, are safe according to leading expertsand clinical trials – for one thing they contain no live virus and so cannot give a person Covid – and with tens of thousands of patients, they have had about 95% efficacy. But across the country, health workers with the first access to the vaccine are turning it down.

Misinformation ‘superspreaders’: Covid vaccine falsehoods still thriving on Facebook and Instagram

The rates of refusal – up to 40% of frontline workers in Los Angeles county, 60% of care home workers in Ohio – have prompted concern and in some cases, shaming. But the ultimate failure could be dismissing these numbers at a critical moment in the US vaccination campaign.

Dr Whitney Robinson, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, told the Guardian if these early figures coming from healthcare workers are not addressed: “It could mean after all this work, after all this sacrifice, we could still be seeing outbreaks for years, not just 2021, maybe 2022, maybe 2023.”

Vaccine hesitancy is common – 29% of healthcare workers said they were vaccine-hesitant, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation published last month. And it’s not exclusive to the US – up to 40% of care workers in the UK might refuse to have the vaccine, the National Care Association said in mid-December.

The numbers coming from hospital and care homes are unique in that they give a more specific picture of who is refusing the vaccine and why. Once vaccines are available to the general public, patterns will be more difficult to identify because the US does not have a centralized system to track vaccinations.

“If we don’t understand the patterns of who is not vaccinated, it will be hard to predict where outbreaks might spring from and how far they might spread,” Robinson said.

It will also leave underfunded public health agencies scrambling to identify and respond to hesitancy in the community.

“We can’t just write off somebody’s decisions and say, well that’s their personal decision,” Robinson said. “Because it’s not just their personal decision, it’s an infectious disease. As long as we have pockets of coronavirus anywhere in the world, until we have mass global vaccination, it’s a threat.”

Some employers and unions are seeing the numbers for what they are: an alarm in need of a response.

In New York City, the firefighters union found last month that 55% of 2,000 firefighter members surveyed said they would not get the vaccine.

But Covid cases are climbing at the FDNY. Twelve members have died and more than 600 were on medical leave in late December.

So, the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) president, Andrew Ansbro, collected questions from some of the roughly 8,200 firefighters his union represents. A virologist friend had been helping Ansbro shape the union’s response to Covid-19 and answered their questions in a recorded video. The 50-minute video has now been viewed about 2,000 times.

“I actually received a couple dozen phone calls and messages from members that said it changed their mind,” said Ansbro, who was vaccinated on 29 December. “I think the vaccination numbers are definitely going to be higher than 45%.”Advertisement

He said people were concerned about how new the vaccine was, had read misinformation online and were worried about long-term effects. In other workplace surveys, people have shared concerns about how it could affect fertility or pregnant women. Some healthcare workers infected with Covid don’t think it’s necessary while they still have antibodies.

Each of these questions can be answered. And national surveys have shown that in general, vaccine hesitancy is decreasing.

But these surveys also suggest action is still needed to address populations more likely to be distrustful because of the country’s history of medical abuse.

Recent surveys show that Black people are the most vaccine-hesitant. In mid-November, 83% of Asian Americans said they would get the vaccine if it was made available to them that day. That sentiment was shared by 63% of Hispanic people, 61% of white people but just 42% of Black people, according to a Pew Research report.

Dr Nikhila Juvvadi, the chief clinical officer at Loretto hospital in Chicago, told NPR that conversations with vaccine-hesitant staff revealed mistrust was an issue among African American and Latino workers.

She said people specifically mentioned the Tuskegee Study, when federal health officials allowed hundreds of Black men with sexually transmitted diseases to go untreated to study disease progression. The study lasted from 1932 to 1972.

“I’ve heard Tuskegee more times than I can count in the past month – and, you know, it’s a valid, valid concern,” Juvvadi said.

Juvvadi, who administered vaccines at the hospital, said one-on-one conversations validating these concerns and answering questions had helped people be more comfortable with the vaccine.

Vaccine hesitancy in healthcare workers has also put pressure on health systems intent on getting doses to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

Georgia’s public health commissioner, Kathleen Toomey, announced last week that the state would expand vaccine access to adults 65 and older and first responders because healthcare workers were declining to take it.

Dr Toomey said that while hundreds of healthcare workers were on waiting lists to get the vaccine in the state’s urban center, Atlanta, in rural areas the vaccine was “literally sitting in freezers” because healthcare workers there did not want to take it.

At one of the Texas hospitals hardest hit by the virus, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in the Rio GrandeValley, workers contacted local EMTs, paramedics and medical workers from outside the hospital to distribute their remaining vaccines because of their limited shelf-life.

Susan, the nurse in Alaska, said her preference would be for her parents to get the vaccine first because they are more vulnerable.

She has made peace with the vaccine and plans to get it the next time it is offered. She said she was ultimately convinced to get it after speaking to other health professionals who did not dismiss her concerns and listened to her questions.

Now, however, there is another hurdle. Susan has declined the vaccine twice because of logistics. She is currently on a temporary crisis assignment in rural Texas and the travel meant both times she was offered the vaccine, she would be in a different state when it was time to take the second dose. Susan said: “I feel terrible I’ve said no.”

Why do you think medical professionals are hesitant to take the vaccine? Shouldn’t one lead by example? If they are unwilling to do it, why should you be willing? Will you take the COVID 19 vaccine?

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47% of Americans Still Hesitant to Get COVID-19 Vaccine, New Poll Says

Published: Jan 22, 2021 By Gail Dutton
Source: Biospace

Vaccine Hesitancy
Source: Biospace
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Americans are still hesitant to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to just-released research from Invisibly.

The online survey of 5,537 Americans conducted between December 4 and 14, 2020 shows Americans nearly equally divided on their willingness to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Only 53% said they were willing to get the vaccine.

“That’s a shockingly low number, but it corresponds well with what JAMA has reported,” Don Vaughn, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and VP Data & Insights at Invisibly, which conducted the survey, told BioSpace.

The Invisibly poll found that willingness to be vaccinated is tightly linked to trustworthiness. Of those who trust the vaccines to be safe and effective, 81% said they are willing to be vaccinated. Of those who considered the vaccine very untrustworthy, 80% said they were very unlikely to be vaccinated.

Notably, trust in the vaccine and willingness to be vaccinated correlated to race and age, with Caucasian people and those age 55 and older saying they are most likely to take the vaccine. The survey found no other significant correlations among income, education, gender or other demographics.

Those age 55 and older are the group most willing to take the vaccine (67%) but even among this group, 33% said they were unwilling to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The second most likely group to be vaccinated is aged 18-24 (58%), followed by those 45-54 (50%). Only 47% of respondents between ages 25 and 44 said they are likely to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’re seeing numbers now from California, reported in the Los Angeles Times, that 50% of front line healthcare workers (in Riverside County)  and 20-40% of Los Angeles County’s frontline workers refused to take the vaccine,” Vaughn said. “We presume they’re more medically educated, so…” hesitation among those outside of healthcare is less surprising.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people of color are most distrustful of the vaccine and thus the least likely to be vaccinated despite a higher incidence of COVID-19 in their communities. Of those not willing to be vaccinated:

  • 53% are Black
  • 50% are Latinx
  • 48% are of other ethnicities
  • 38% are White

Lisa Cooper, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity and a former MacArthur “genius” fellow for her work in health disparities, explained the concern on NPR.

“In the Black community, there is skepticism that relates to historical experiences, and mistrust based on the discrimination that Black Americans face in the health care system and in the rest of society. It’s really well-founded,” Cooper said.

The overwhelming reason for this reluctance appears to be distrust of these vaccines (44%). Reports indicate that people are confused by medical terms and don’t understand how a safe vaccine was developed without cutting corners.

Vaughn has an additional explanation.

“A lot of people want to wait a bit,” Vaughn said.

An ABC poll confirmed it, with 44% of those respondents preferring to wait to see how those receiving the initial vaccines fared before rolling up their own sleeves.

In the Invisibly poll, most respondents said they will return to pre-pandemic activities only when officials say it is safe, while 23% said they would resume normal activities after most people are vaccinated. Until then, 75% said they plan to continue wearing a mask and social distancing. Notably, 25% said there are unlikely to wear a mask after vaccination.

Also, 47% of respondents think children should be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to in-person learning. Given the low incidence of COVID-19 among children, 30% said vaccination should not be required for children and 23% were unsure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for January 13“Reported incidence and positive test results among children aged 0–10 years were consistently lower than those in older age groups.” Of the nearly 2.9 million laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in people younger than age 24 since the outbreak began, about 16% occurred in children aged 14-17; nearly 8% in those 11-13 years old; 11% in those 5-10 years old; and slightly more than 7% in those age 4 or younger.

Larry Corey, professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins Medical School, showed Kaplan-Meier curves concurrent with vaccine roll out that showed differences in the infection rate between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The key to increasing vaccination rates begins with clear communication that translates the medical jargon into everyday language, followed by strategies that deliver ample quantities to vaccine where they are needed and clear guidance as to who is eligible to received the vaccines at given points in time.

For example, Washington state just entered Phase Ib of its vaccination plan and launched an online questionnaire  (http://www.FindYourPhaseWA.org) to help people know when and how to get vaccinated.

There’s still some confusion, though. One of the Phase Ib criteria includes people age 50 and older who live in multigenerational households. The definition of “multigenerational” in this context raises questions. The Washington State Department of Health defines it as two or more generations living together, although it’s often defined as three or more generations living together or grandparents caring for grandchildren. By way for example, the Washington State Department of Health says, “Think of a person over 50 who cannot live independently and receives long-term care from a caregiver, lives with someone who works outside the home, or lives with and cares for a grandchild.” Additional guidance is expected.

Regardless, throughout all 50 states and U.S. territories, people are queuing for vaccinations. Now that nearly 17 million doses of the vaccine have been administered, Vaughn said Invisibly plans to conduct another poll “in about a month,” to see whether attitudes have changed.

Indeed many healthcare workers are hesitant mainly siting the politicization of COVID 19. While other like a Jamaican doctor who died of COVID 19 complications sited poor health care treatment. Will you take the vaccine? Why? Why not? Why do you think people remain hesitant?

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Vaccine rollout hits snag as health workers balk at shots

By BERNARD CONDON, MATT SEDENSKY and CARLA K. JOHNSON
January 8, 2021
Source: Associate Press

Source: Associate Press, Jae C. Hong
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

In this Jan. 7, 2021, file photo, a nurse puts on protective gear in a COVID-19 unit in California. The nation’s biggest immunization rollout in history is facing pushback from an unlikely source: health care workers who witnessed COVID-19′s devastation firsthand but are refusing shots in surprising numbers. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The desperately awaited vaccination drive against the coronavirus in the U.S. is running into resistance from an unlikely quarter: Surprising numbers of health care workers who have seen firsthand the death and misery inflicted by COVID-19 are refusing shots.

It is happening in nursing homes and, to a lesser degree, in hospitals, with employees expressing what experts say are unfounded fears of side effects from vaccines that were developed at record speed. More than three weeks into the campaign, some places are seeing as much as 80% of the staff holding back.

“I don’t think anyone wants to be a guinea pig,” said Dr. Stephen Noble, a 42-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon in Portland, Oregon, who is postponing getting vaccinated. “At the end of the day, as a man of science, I just want to see what the data show. And give me the full data.

Alarmed by the phenomenon, some administrators have dangled everything from free breakfasts at Waffle House to a raffle for a car to get employees to roll up their sleeves. Some states have threatened to let other people cut ahead of health care workers in the line for shots.

“It’s far too low. It’s alarmingly low,” said Neil Pruitt, CEO of PruittHealth, which runs about 100 long-term care homes in the South, where fewer than 3 in 10 workers offered the vaccine so far have accepted it.

Many medical facilities from Florida to Washington state have boasted of near-universal acceptance of the shots, and workers have proudly plastered pictures of themselves on social media receiving the vaccine. Elsewhere, though, the drive has stumbled.

While the federal government has released no data on how many people offered the vaccines have taken them, glimpses of resistance have emerged around the country.

In Illinois, a big divide has opened at state-run veterans homes between residents and staff. The discrepancy was worst at the veterans home in Manteno, where 90% of residents were vaccinated but only 18% of the staff members.

In rural Ashland, Alabama, about 90 of some 200 workers at Clay County Hospital have yet to agree to get vaccinated, even with the place so overrun with COVID-19 patients that oxygen is running low and beds have been added to the intensive care unit, divided by plastic sheeting.

The pushback comes amid the most lethal phase in the outbreak yet, with the death toll at more than 350,000, and it could hinder the government’s effort to vaccinate somewhere between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population to achieve “herd immunity.

Administrators and public health officials have expressed hope that more health workers will opt to be vaccinated as they see their colleagues take the shots without problems.

Oregon doctor Noble said he will wait until April or May to get the shots. He said it is vital for public health authorities not to overstate what they know about the vaccines. That is particularly important, he said, for Black people like him who are distrustful of government medical guidance because of past failures and abuses, such as the infamous Tuskegee experiment.

Medical journals have published extensive data on the vaccines, and the Food and Drug Administration has made its analysis public. But misinformation about the shots has spread wildly online, including falsehoods that they cause fertility problems.

Stormy Tatom, 30, a hospital ICU nurse in Beaumont, Texas, said she decided against getting vaccinated for now “because of the unknown long-term side effects.”

“I would say at least half of my coworkers feel the same way,” Tatom said.

There have been no signs of widespread severe side effects from the vaccines, and scientists say the drugs have been rigorously tested on tens of thousands and vetted by independent experts.

States have begun turning up the pressure. South Carolina’s governor gave health care workers until Jan. 15 to get a shot or “move to the back of the line.” Georgia’s top health official has allowed some vaccines to be diverted to other front-line workers, including firefighters and police, out of frustration with the slow uptake.

“There’s vaccine available but it’s literally sitting in freezers,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey. “That’s unacceptable. We have lives to save.”

Nursing homes were among the institutions given priority for the shots because the virus has cut a terrible swath through them. Long-term care residents and staff account for about 38% of the nation’s COVID-19 fatalities.

In West Virginia, only about 55% of nursing home workers agreed to the shots when they were first offered last month, according to Martin Wright, who leads the West Virginia Health Care Association.

“It’s a race against social media,” Wright said of battling falsehoods about the vaccines.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said only 40% of the state’s nursing home workers have gotten shots. North Carolina’s top public health official estimated more than half were refusing the vaccine there.

SavaSeniorCare has offered cash to the 169 long-term care homes in its 20-state network to pay for gift cards, socially distanced parties or other incentives. But so far, data from about a third of its homes shows that 55% of workers have refused the vaccine.

CVS and Walgreens, which have been contracted by a majority of U.S. nursing homes to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, have not released specifics on the acceptance rate. CVS said that residents have agreed to be immunized at an “encouragingly high” rate but that “initial uptake among staff is low,” partly because of efforts to stagger when employees receive their shots.

Some facilities have vaccinated workers in stages so that the staff is not sidelined all at once if they suffer minor side effects, which can include fever and aches.

The hesitation isn’t surprising, given the mixed message from political leaders and misinformation online, said Dr. Wilbur Chen, a professor at the University of Maryland who specializes in the science of vaccines.

He noted that health care workers represent a broad range of jobs and backgrounds and said they are not necessarily more informed than the general public.

“They don’t know what to believe either,” Chen said. But he said he expects the hesitancy to subside as more people are vaccinated and public health officials get their message across.

Some places have already seen turnarounds, such as Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“The biggest thing that helped us to gain confidence in our staff was watching other staff members get vaccinated, be OK, walk out of the room, you know, not grow a third ear, and so that really is like an avalanche,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer. “The first few hundred that we had created another 300 that wanted the vaccine.”

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; 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.

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