By Lynn Allison

Many hospital workers remain unvaccinated despite the fact they were first in line to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. In a recent survey, some hospitals reported that only half their staff, which includes doctors and nurses along with support workers, are fully vaccinated.

According to the USA Today survey, public health officials are concerned that the low vaccination rate among hospital workers will slow the race toward herd immunity that experts hope will stop the spread of the virus by this summer.

“I think it’ll be a bit of a struggle to get to that 70% to 75% vaccination rate,” said Stacey Gabriel, chief executive officer of Hocking Valley Community Hospital in Ohio, an 80-bed facility where only 50% of the staff have been vaccinated.

At Houston Methodist Hospital, 47-year-old Bob Nevens was fired for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. He had served as director of corporate risk for a decade and balked when his hospital system mandated vaccines for all management and staff.

Nevens said he was concerned that the vaccines were developed too rapidly and that the Food and Drug Administration gave only emergency use authorization for the drugs and not full approval. He was also worried about the unknown long-term side effects of the drugs.

“I don’t want to take an experimental vaccine,” he told USA Today. “We don’t know what it’s going to do to somebody 10 years from now.” Nevens also said that he believes he already contracted COVID-19 while on a hiking trip and is therefore immune to the disease.

Houston Methodist president Marc Boom defended his hospital’s stance on mandatory vaccines.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It puts patients first. It puts hospitals in a leadership position from a safety perspective.”

Last week, 117 employees of the hospital filed suit against the hospital system for requiring the vaccine, saying that the clinical trials have not been completed and the drugs do not have full approval from the FDA. One employee who refused to get vaccinated claims she has seen many people become ill from the vaccine.

“I’ve seen everything from blood clots, heart attacks, heart arrhythmias,” nurse Jennifer Bridges told USA Today.  “We’ve had people who were perfectly healthy and the day after they took the vaccine, they literally woke up and they couldn’t move or feel their legs.”

While experts say that when the vaccines were first offered many hospital workers, as well as other eligible Americans, rushed to get their shots. But then the vaccination rate plummeted and has now plateaued. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Data Tracker, 41% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, a far cry from the estimated 80% healthcare and infectious disease experts predict is needed to achieve herd immunity.

And with dangerous emerging variants of the virus becoming more prevalent, this may cause another wave of COVID-19 cases, warn infectious disease experts. Many hospitals contacted by USA Today for their survey said they were unwilling to mandate vaccines for their staff until the FDA formally approves them. Others, like the University of Pennsylvania, announced they would require all employees including clinical staff to get vaccinated and have issued deadlines.

Experts say that hospital workers share the same fears as the general public about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. Another reason they are not getting vaccinated is largely political.

About one if five U.S. adults are reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine according to a poll released by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in April, and the breakdown reveals a rift along party lines.

According to The Hill, 43% of Republicans said they refused to get a shot compared to 22% of Independents and 5% of Democrats. The poll showed that men were also slightly more hesitant to get the vaccine than women. 

Overall, of those surveyed, 51% said they have already received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines and 14 percent revealed they were planning to get inoculated as soon as possible, according to The Hill.

Republicans are not the only group to distrust the vaccine. According to reports African Americans, Hispanics and other minority groups have expressed their hesitancy even though they were among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Many members of the military and healthcare workers are also declining to get vaccinated.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey last December found that 29% of healthcare workers were hesitant about getting vaccinated compared to 27% of people in the general sector. Respondents to the survey explained that they had concerns about side effects and did not trust the safety of the vaccines. Some said they felt the dangers of COVID-19 were exaggerated, according to the  Los Angeles Times.

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