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More than half of Ohio’s nursing home staff refusing vaccine as first round is nearly over

Posted at 4:13 PM, Jan 05, 2021

Now that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are finally in the hands of medical professionals ready to vaccinate as many high-risk people as possible, more than half of Ohio’s nursing home staff are refusing the vaccine, according to Governor Mike DeWine.

He says the good news is that 75 to 80% of nursing home residents are opting to get vaccinated.

“The bad news is, as I’ve mentioned before, we’re running only at around 40 percent of the staff that is taking the shot the first time around,” said DeWine.

Governor DeWine says while the overwhelming majority of nursing home residents are getting the COVID vaccine, more than half the staff at those facilities are refusing.

That comes as 4,487 of Ohio’s 9,247 COVID deaths (just less than half) come from long-term care facilities.

That’s why long-term care facilities were singled out to get the first COVID vaccine doses. Since December 18, the Ohio Department of Health tells News 5, “45,426 doses have been administered from the four pharmacies in the federal program as of close of business yesterday.”

The first round of those vaccinations is expected to be finished in the middle of January.

“It’s discouraging,” said Oak Street Health’s Ohio Senior Medical Director Dr. Laolu Fayanju. “It’s sometimes a little disheartening when you hear about medical personnel who are privy to the information and have the data at their disposal and will then reject this.”

"We have to have trust in the science and the data that we have really supports the efficacy of these vaccines," said Dr. Fayanju. "I am impressed, I am trusting and hopeful in this vaccine."

Oak Street Health is an out-patient office that cares for patients on Medicare and Medicaid who often have a long list of conditions, making them very high-risk to catch COVID and have disastrous outcomes.

So when some of his staff members raised questions about the COVID vaccine, Fayanju said he addressed their concerns

“A lot of those concerns have been allayed and people are ready to get vaccinated,” Fayanju said.

“Probably the biggest thing that we’ve seen is, ‘I don’t want to be first,” said Ohio Health Care Association Executive Director Peter Van Runkle.

Healthcare workers got their COVID vaccines live on Governor DeWine's news conference, talking about how easy and pain-free the experience is.

Van Runkle says he’s confident more information and frank conversations can address the fears nursing home staff have and convince them to still get the COVID vaccine. The problems have so far been caused by misinformation online that plagues people in every profession.

“They share a lot of the same social media and other sources that are questionable that everyone else does,” said Van Runkle. “It becomes a little bit of a challenge to overcome that.”

To fight back, organizations like the Ohio Health Care Association and Ohio Nurses Association are sending out information encouraging members to learn more about the COVID vaccine, see that it’s safe and effective, and share that with patients and co-workers.

"Right now, we recognize that we have a critical window of opportunity to vaccinate during this initial wave," said Ohio Department of Aging Director Ursel McElroy.

The Ohio Department of Aging is also participating in online sessions for staff members in long-term care facilities where they can meet with doctors of varying ages and races to answer their concerns directly.

Department of Aging Director Ursel McElroy joined Governor DeWine’s Tuesday press conference after leaving a call that she said had more than 400 people on it, spreading correct information to long-term facility staff.

“We still need to keep wearing masks because the vaccine will keep you from getting severely ill but you can still spread it to others, and [the staff is] asking the important questions that many of us have,” said McElroy. “We hope that these discussions will give the workforce the confidence they need to get the vaccine.”

The saving grace is the fact that pharmacies administering vaccines to long-term care facilities are visiting each location three times. So even if 60 percent of the staff in nursing homes refused a vaccine the first time, they still have enough visits in the immediate future to get the first and second doses before this current round of vaccinations ends.

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