What do we do about COVID vaccine refusal?

At Ohio nursing homes, the state’s governor said Wednesday, about 60 percent of staff have chosen not to take a COVID-19 vaccine despite their work with the single most vulnerable population in this pandemic: elderly and unwell people in an institutional setting where transmission is often swift and symptoms severe.

In California, many frontline health-care workers are refusing vaccination, too. “At Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, one in five frontline nurses and doctors have declined the shot,” the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. “Roughly 20 percent to 40 percent 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 percent — that hospital and public officials met to strategize how best to distribute the unused doses.”

And in Wisconsin this past weekend, a hospital employee admitted to purposefully sabotaging 50 vials — more than 500 doses — of the Moderna vaccine by removing it from required refrigeration.

Some skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccines was inevitable. We always knew a subset of people medically eligible for the shots would refuse them. But this degree of opposition, especially in the health-care field, is unsettling. One recent survey found three in 10 health-care workers and a nearly identical percentage of the general population are “vaccine-hesitant.” How do we handle this?

The sabotage case in Wisconsin is the easiest. As is already happening, the employee should be fired and prosecuted as appropriate.

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Personal vaccine refusal is far trickier. Granted, these numbers may be somewhat inflated. They possibly include people who have a legitimate medical reason not to be vaccinated. They certainly include people with a temporary reason for refusal, especially pregnancy or breastfeeding (the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t recommend against COVID-19 vaccination for women in either circumstance, but it does caution that data on outcomes there is limited). One of the nurses in the Los Angeles Times story, April Lu, cites exactly this reason for waiting.

Even with those numerical caveats, however, these reports from Ohio and California suggest a startlingly high rate of refusal among health-care workers. “I feel people think, ‘I can still make it until this ends without getting the vaccine,'” Lu said of her coworkers who are refusing without a reason like pregnancy. But the trouble is that the main way “this ends” is herd immunity, ideally achieved through widespread vaccination, not further years of wild viral spread and the death toll and social and economic misery that have come with it.

But … what can we really do? We can’t fire all the nurses who won’t get vaccinated when we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Many hospitals already have a critical staff shortage, so it’s just not feasible to say only those who accept a vaccine can work. Sidelining 20 to 40 percent of available doctors and nurses would be catastrophic. An unvaccinated nurse is …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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