Vaccine hesitancy among long-term care staff remains a complex issue that goes beyond “selfishness,” the Pennsylvania Health Care Association said Thursday.
“Two weeks ago, there were headlines that painted a picture of selfish, uninformed workers who refused to take the vaccine,” said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of PHCA. “It’s not that simple.”
The association, which represents more than 400 long-term care and senior service providers that treat 50,000 elderly and disabled residents, said an internal survey revealed that 63% of workers had been immunized since late December. A day later, the Department of Health released the results of its own survey that placed this figure closer to 55%.
Shamberg said reporting errors explain the discrepancies in the department’s data, but the conclusion remains the same.
“It’s become abundantly clear that we are not seeing 100% vaccination rates among workers and residents, and we may never see that,” he said. “[But] we should not cast immediate judgment.”
The association said its internal survey revealed many reasons why workers may have refused the vaccine, so far. Many were waiting for the Johnson & Johnson one-shot immunization, while others said their physicians advised them to delay vaccination due to pregnancy or a prior COVID-19 infection. Rumors of infertility following vaccination played a role, too, Shamberg said.
“It’s clear vaccination education in our communities, including long-term care facilities, must continue,” he said. “We stand ready to work with community groups and leaders to ensure that all front line workers and residents receive the information they need to make an informed decision.”
Distrust of the government and vaccinations, in general, persists, particularly in communities of color. Many staff and residents felt uneasy about the newness of the vaccine – a factor that’s dissipated since the first federal vaccine clinics began inside facilities on Dec. 28, 2020.
“There are personal and multipronged reasons people have not taken it,” said Kathy Derleth, the chief nursing officer for Bedrock Care in Philadelphia. “It was two weeks after federal approval that we had our clinics. It was just so new.”
Immunization rates among residents fared better on the association’s survey, with 83% of those living in nursing homes and 97% of those in assisted living and personal care facilities reported full vaccination.
Still, the issue isn’t moot, Derleth said. An influx of new residents and employees means the federal pharmacy partnership to vaccinate this particular population must continue. Mass vaccination clinics in surrounding communities don’t work for immobile residents in long-term care facilities, she said.
As of Thursday, about 8.3 million vaccinations have been administered statewide. The department data suggests about 40% of residents are fully immunized.
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