As California has been deemed the nation’s “epicenter” of the COVID-19 pandemic, several frontline essential workers prioritized in state and county vaccination plans have declined to take the shot.
“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, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Between 20% to 40% of frontline workers in Los Angeles County did not take the vaccine when it was first offered. More than half of the 700 eligible employees at a hospital in Tehama County made the same decision, resulting in the facility returning 200 doses to the health department.
“They gave us those vaccines back, and we quickly started moving it out and using it,” said Dr. Richard Wickenheiser, the Tehama County health officer.
While unused doses at hospitals in Tehama County are distributed to the next group of eligible individuals, the Times said “it’s unclear” what happens in other areas. “State guidance allows hospitals to offer the vaccine to lower-priority people if frontline workers have already been offered the vaccine,” the report said.
The Times quoted several public health experts, officials, and hospital workers who cited several reasons for the skepticism, including pregnancy, a lack of confidence in the federal government, the politicization of the virus, and concerns about long-term side effects.
They are front-line workers with top priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine, but they are refusing to take it.https://t.co/yDtTh6ccq2
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) December 31, 2020
“I feel like the perception of the public with healthcare workers is incorrect,” said Nicholas Ruiz, an office assistant at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, California. “They might think we’re all informed of all of this. They might think that because we work in this environment.”
“But I know there’s a lot of people that have the same mentality as the public where they’re still afraid of getting it,” he added.
Nursing home staffers are also hesitant, as administrators and employees interviewed by the Times estimate about 25% of staffers “have voiced reluctance to take the vaccine.”
As the Times reports:
The consequences are potentially dire: If too few people are vaccinated, the pandemic will stretch on indefinitely, leading to future surges, excessive strain on the healthcare system and ongoing economic fallout. …
To persuade reluctant workers, many hospitals are using instructional videos and interactive webinars showing staff getting vaccinated. At an Orange County hospital, Anthony Wilkinson, an intensive care nurse who cares for coronavirus patients, said he had co-workers who had “lost faith in big pharma and even the CDC.”
Officials at UCLA Health, which comprises four hospitals on two campuses, said “there may be vaccine hesitancy in our workforce.” However, they did not provide data indicating how many of the more than 37,000 employees had turned down the vaccine. As of Tuesday, 7,300 staffers had been vaccinated.
“We are not asking personnel to decide immediately whether to receive the vaccine,” UCLA Health said in a statement. “We want to give those offered vaccines adequate time to make a decision, and we hope that personnel will continue to understand that the benefits of vaccination clearly outweigh the risks.”
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