Jan. 1, 2021, 4:15 AM +08
By Doha Madani
A large percentage of front-line workers in hospitals and nursing homes have refused to take the Covid-19 vaccine, a hurdle for public health officials as the country struggles to roll out inoculations around the country.
About 50 percent of front-line workers in California’s Riverside County have refused to take the vaccine, Riverside Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari told The Los Angeles Times on Thursday. California is currently overwhelmed with cases as hospital staff in Southern California face a shortage of intensive-care units and have created makeshift units.
Vaccine development and distribution has been the target of persistent conspiracy theories and disinformation on social media, although it’s unclear how much impact this anti-vaccination movement has had on overall public trust in the process.
About 2 in 10 Americans are certain they will not change their mind about refusing the vaccine, according to data from the Pew Research Center. And 62 percent said they would be uncomfortable being among the first to receive the vaccine.
Anecdotally, an estimated 60 percent of Ohio nursing home employees have refused the vaccine already, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said during a news briefing Wednesday. It’s a stark contrast to the number of nursing home residents who have taken the vaccine when offered, which DeWine guessed to be about 85 percent.
“We’re not going to make them, but we wish we had a higher compliance,” DeWine said. “And our message today is: The train may not be coming back for awhile. We’re going to make it available to everyone eventually, but this is the opportunity for you, and you should really think about getting it.”
Rollout for the vaccine has already been met with several logistical hurdles as only 2.6 million people have been vaccinated as of Wednesday. A review by NBC News of earlier data Tuesday found that at the current rate, it would take almost 10 years to inoculate enough Americans to get the pandemic under control.
It’s unclear how refusal by essential workers, who are prioritized to receive the vaccine in the first phase of administration, could further hamper the distribution efforts.
A survey of 2,053 New York City firefighters found that more than half said they would refuse the Covid-19 vaccine when it became available to them, according to a poll released by the Uniformed Firefighters Association this month.
They are frontline workers with top-priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine, but they are refusing to take it.
At St. Elizabeth Community Hospital in Tehama County, fewer than half of the 700 hospital workers eligible for the vaccine were willing to take the shot when it was first offered. At Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, one in five frontline nurses and doctors have declined the shot. Roughly 20% to 40% of L.A. County’s frontline workers who were offered the vaccine did the same, according to county public health officials.
So many frontline workers in Riverside County have refused the vaccine — an estimated 50% — that hospital and public officials met to strategize how best to distribute the unused doses, Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said.
The vaccine doubts swirling among healthcare workers across the country come as a surprise to researchers, who assumed hospital staff would be among those most in tune with the scientific data backing the vaccines.
The scientific evidence is clear regarding the safety and efficacy of the vaccines after trials involving tens of thousands of participants, including elderly people and those with chronic health conditions. The shots are recommended for everyone except those who have had a severe allergic reaction to any of the ingredients.
Still, skepticism remains.
April Lu, a 31-year-old nurse at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, said she refused to take the vaccine because she was not convinced it was safe for pregnant women. She is six months pregnant.
Clinical trials have yet to be conducted on pregnant women who take the vaccine, but experts believe the vaccine is unlikely to pose a specific risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The agency says pregnant women may choose to be vaccinated.
“I’m choosing the risk — the risk of having COVID, or the risk of the unknown of the vaccine,” Lu said. “I think I’m choosing the risk of COVID. I can control that and prevent it a little by wearing masks, although not 100% for sure.”
Some of her co-workers have also declined to take the vaccine because they’ve gone months without contracting the virus and believe they have a good chance of surviving it, she said. “I feel people think, ‘I can still make it until this ends without getting the vaccine,’” she said.
The extent to which healthcare workers are refusing the vaccine is unclear, but reports of lower-than-expected participation rates are emerging around the country, raising concerns for epidemiologists who say the public health implications could be disastrous.
A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 29% of healthcare workers were “vaccine hesitant,” a figure slightly higher than the percentage of the general population, 27%.