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As new data shows that one in 500 Americans have died from COVID-19 and the delta variant continues to rise across the country, the next challenge many health officials face lies within their own. own staff: The 27% of U.S. healthcare workers who were not vaccinated against the disease in July, according to a study by the COVID States Project.
On top of that, other research shows that since the vaccine first became available to healthcare workers in December 2020, the vaccination rate among nurses and nursing assistants has been lower than that of doctors. . This can be of particular concern, as nurses and orderlies have frequent and close contact with patients.
Data shows that health workers received the COVID-19 vaccine at a higher rate than the general population: 73% versus 64% of non-health workers. And many can assume that people who work in the healthcare industry are more enthusiastic about the vaccine and less fearful.
But that has its limits, says David Lazer of Northeastern University, the lead researcher of the COVID States Project report. The attitudes of health workers towards the COVID-19 vaccine essentially mirror the rest of the country – with those who live in rural areas, who are Republicans, with less education and income more likely to be resistant to the vaccine.
“The big takeaway for us is really that healthcare workers are like everyone else,” Lazer told NPR.
“The same things that predict vaccine resistance or reluctance among the general population are also predicted among healthcare workers,” he says.
Disinformation also affects healthcare workers
Melody Butler, a nurse at Long Island Community Hospital in New York City and executive director of the nonprofit Nurses Who Vaccinate, says she has heard nurses across the country explain why they don’t want the vaccine.
Among the reasons: The research was done too quickly; it has not been fully approved by the FDA; they already have antibodies to work on the front lines of the pandemic or maybe already contract the virus. Many are concerned about how the vaccine affects fertility.
To be clear, all of these concerns have been addressed by scientific experts and the overwhelming evidence is that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
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But Butler points out that widespread disinformation plays a role here as well. And nurses don’t learn the ins and outs of vaccine research. The immunization gap between doctors and nurses, she says, boils down to an education gap.
“When you have these new illnesses, it’s really up to nurses to educate themselves about what research is,” Butler said. “You had nurses floundering around, looking for information. So now we see this educational gap.”
“We see nurses who weren’t trained to recognize poorly written studies, they weren’t trained to recognize anti-vaccine propaganda,” she said. “And that’s very compelling. That’s what our struggle is in the nursing community.”
Butler says her concern with getting nurses across the country vaccinated is that she wants them to be safe and protected. The best way for health officials to get their colleagues vaccinated against COVID-19, she says, is to function in a place of compassion.
They need workplaces that “speak to people with compassion and kindness,” she says. “Knowing that the person talking to you wants you to get the vaccine not because it’s the law, but because they care.”
Vaccination warrants could get more staff out
While a majority of nurses are vaccinated and more than half support workplace vaccination mandates, some oppose demands to be vaccinated or undergo mandatory testing and say they would rather quit their jobs. And hospitals are already feeling the effects.
A New York hospital announced he would no longer be able to give birth because dozens of staff quit rather than be vaccinated. In Houston, 153 hospital workers quit or were fired during a recent vaccination tenure. It’s a crisis on top of the widespread nursing shortage that has been a problem since even before the pandemic.
Some hospital executives – like Alan Levine, CEO of Johnson City-based Ballad Health, Tenn. – say they cannot afford to implement a vaccination mandate for their staff – about 63% of whom are already vaccinated. Enough nurses would leave, says Levine, that hospitals would not be able to take care of patients.
“We have about 6,000 nurses in our system,” he says. “If there are five or ten nurses in our system, we feel it.”
Levine says that right now, all intensive care beds in the hospital system are full – at least half full with COVID-19 patients.
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Nursing shortages in the United States have long hit rural hospitals the hardest. In Tennessee, 14 rural hospitals have closed since 2012, leaving behind thousands of people in communities already struggling to find care.
Levine says he’s not yet sure how President Biden’s national mandate for healthcare worker vaccines will impact his hospitals, but he is concerned about how this will affect healthcare providers. rural health.
“I understand why the president felt the need to announce these mandates nationally, but every region of the country is different,” Levine said. “In rural areas, it’s very difficult.
“I have to keep as many nurses as possible who are able to take care of our community,” he says.