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New data shows that one in 500 Americans has died of COVID-19 and the Delta variant continues to increase across the country, according to a study by the COVID States Project, it was not vaccinated against the disease in July.
In addition, other research shows that since the vaccine first became available to medical staff in December 2020, the vaccination rate for nurses and nursing home workers has been lower than for doctors. This can be particularly worrying because nurses and rescuers have such frequent and close contact with patients.
The data shows that healthcare workers received the COVID-19 vaccine at a higher rate than the general population: 73% versus 64% of non-healthcare workers. And many can assume that people who work in healthcare will be more excited and less concerned about the vaccine.
But there are limits, says David Lazer of Northeastern University, the lead researcher on the COVID States Project report. The attitudes of health care workers towards the COVID-19 vaccine largely mirrors the rest of the country – the people who live in rural areas are Republican and have less education and incomes who are more likely to be immune to vaccinations.
“The big advantage for us is that healthcare workers are like everyone else,” Lazer told MediaFrolic.
“The same things that predict vaccine resistance or reluctance in the general population are predicted among health workers,” he says.
Misinformation also affects healthcare workers
Melody Butler, a nurse at Long Island Community Hospital in New York and executive director of the nonprofit Nurses Who Vaccinate, says she heard from nurses around the country why they didn’t want the vaccine.
The reasons: The research was carried out too quickly; it was not (initially) fully approved by the FDA; they already have antibodies because they are on the front lines of the pandemic or maybe they already got the virus. Many are concerned about how the vaccine will affect fertility.
To be clear, all of these concerns have been addressed by scientific experts, and the overwhelming evidence is that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
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Butler points out that widespread misinformation also plays a role here. And nurses are not taught the ins and outs of vaccine research. The vaccination gap between doctors and nursing staff amounts to an education gap.
“When these new diseases show up, it’s really up to the nurses to do their research,” says Butler. “They had nurses looking for information. So now we’re seeing this education gap.”
“We see the nurses who weren’t trained to spot badly written studies; they weren’t trained to spot anti-vaccine propaganda,” she says. “And it’s very compelling. This is our fight in the care community.”
Butler says her concern about getting nurses vaccinated across the country is that she wants them to be safe and protected. The best way for healthcare leaders to vaccinate their colleagues against COVID-19 is to operate from a place of compassion.
You need jobs that “speak compassionately and kindly to people,” she says. “Knowing that the person speaking to you wants you to be vaccinated, not because it’s the law, but because they care.”
Vaccine mandates could crowd out more staff
While the majority of nurses are vaccinated and more than half support vaccination regulations in the workplace, some dislike the requirements for a vaccination or mandatory testing, saying that they would rather leave their jobs. And hospitals are already feeling the effects.
A New York hospital announced it could no longer bear babies because dozens of employees quit instead of getting vaccinated. In Houston, 153 hospital workers resigned or were laid off because of a recent vaccination mandate. It’s a crisis on top of the widespread shortage of nurses that was a problem even before the pandemic.
Some hospital managers – like Alan Levine, CEO of Ballad Health, based in Johnson City, Tennessee – say they can’t afford to implement a vaccination mandate for their employees – of whom about 63% are already vaccinated. Enough nurses are leaving, says Levine, the hospitals cannot take care of the patients.
“We have about 6,000 nurses in our system,” he says. “When we have five or ten nurses in our system, we feel it.”
Levine says all ICU beds in the hospital system are currently full – at least half with COVID-19 patients.
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The shortage of care in the US has long hit rural hospitals hardest. In Tennessee, 14 rural hospitals have closed since 2012, leaving thousands in communities already struggling to find medical care.
Levine says he’s not yet sure how President Biden’s national vaccination mandate for health workers will affect his hospitals, but he has concerns about how it will affect rural health care providers.
“I understand why the president felt the need to announce these mandates on a national level, but every region of the country is different,” says Levine. “It’s very difficult in rural areas.”
“I need to keep as many nurses as possible who are able to take care of our community,” he says.