Thousands of health care and frontline workers across the US are refusing to get COVID-19 vaccines as the rollout of the shots in America continues to sputter.
Up to half of health care workers in California county and a Texas hospital say they will not get the shot, 60 percent of nursing home staff in Ohio are turning down the jab and 40 percent of frontline workers in Los Angeles won’t get it either, polls reveal.
Respondents to a number of surveys cite fears of dangerous side effects, health care worker forum posters say they feel they are being used as guinea pigs and experts blame misinformation.
Although life-threatening side effects are rare, examples of them cropped up in the first days of the vaccine rollout with two health care workers in Alaska – one of whom had no history of allergies – suffering anaphylactic shock minutes after getting the first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine.
The problem isn’t unique to the US. American and Dutch nurses alike have complained they are being used as guinea pigs.
But it’s a dire issue in the US, where 3,000 people are routinely dying within periods of just 24 hours, and vaccine rollout is proceeding at a snail’s pace with only about 14 percent of the 20 million people Operation Warp Speed promised to vaccinate by the end of 2020 receiving their first doses before New Year’s Day.
Health care workers have been offered the first spot in line to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in all states, following CDC recommendations to prioritize inoculating them.
Granting them early access was aimed at protecting nurses, doctors, and hospital staff exposed over and over again to COVID-19 patients.
Public health experts hoped that vaccinating health care workers first would not only protect them from infection but reduce the risk that they spread the virus and prevent hospitals from rom running out of staff.
But the assumption that health care workers would want the shots has not panned out.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said Thursday, December 31, 2020, that roughly 60 percent of nurses there are refusing the shot.
‘We not going to make them, but we wish we had a higher compliance,’ he said.
‘And our message today is: The train may not be coming back for a while. 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.’
In nearby Riverside County, refusal is even more common, with half of the frontline workers turning down coronavirus vaccines.
‘I’m choosing the risk — the risk of having COVID, or the risk of the unknown of the vaccine,’ April Lu, a 31-year-old nurse in California, told the LA Times.
‘I think I’m choosing the risk of COVID. I can control that and prevent it a little by wearing masks, although not 100 percent for sure.’
Refusal from nurses should not have come entirely as a surprise to health officials – particularly in California.
A Kaiser Family Health Foundation survey published on December 15 – just as the US was starting to distribute vaccines – found that 29 percent of people working in health care settings did not want the shot.
A national COVID-19 vaccine mandate would be unprecedented and is unlikely, even under the incoming Biden administration.
Individual institutions, however, could mandate shots.
For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) requires all clinically practicing staff to get flu shots in order to come to work.
Dr Anthony Fauci said he is ‘sure’ that some institutions and companies will require vaccination and that ‘everything will be on the table’ in terms of how to get more people vaccinated and end the pandemic, according to News Week.