Protesters hold up signs in front of Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital in Franklin, Wis., during a rally against mandatory vaccination of employees on Aug. 27, 2021. President Joe Biden recently ordered that federal funding be withheld from long-term care facilities that do not require their staff to be vaccinated. The industry has complained it is being singled out, potentially driving already scarce workers to other health care sectors. (Scott Ash / Now News Group)
By: Madeline Fuerstenberg / Wisconsin Watch and WPR, WisconsinWatch.org
Hannah Miller, a nursing student and employee of a long-term care facility in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Aug. 23 — and not voluntarily.
“(The vaccine) hasn't been out long enough to know what long term effects are,” Miller told Wisconsin Watch. “We don’t know if it could cause bigger health issues in the future or cause issues, such as fertility.”
Miller said she was required to receive the vaccine by the hospital where she is completing her clinicals for school. She said she would not be able to graduate without getting it. Miller asked that her school and her workplace not be disclosed in this article.
Increasingly, health care facilities in Wisconsin and around the country require their employees to be vaccinated. Yet in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes — where residents are highly susceptible to severe illness and death from COVID-19 — some workers refuse the shot.
As of late August, Wisconsin’s rate of fully vaccinated nursing home employees was around 60%. Wisconsin’s total rate of fully vaccinated individuals between the ages of 18 and 64 is about 58.4%. By contrast, the rate among residents 65 and older is around 95%.
In mid-August, President Joe Biden ordered long-term facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding to require their workers to be vaccinated, citing studies that show having a highly vaccinated nursing home staff is associated with a 30% reduction in COVID-19 cases. Of the 355 nursing homes in Wisconsin, 353 are Medicare and Medicaid certified. Still, some Wisconsin nursing homes are not requiring staff to be vaccinated, a spot check of facilities by Wisconsin Watch showed.
On Thursday, Biden upped the ante, ordering all hospitals, home health-care companies and other medical facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid to mandate that their staffs be vaccinated. The move will affect an estimated 17 million workers at 50,000 locations across the country.
The president’s decision to issue the mandate was prompted by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study which found the effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is waning among nursing home residents — among the first to be vaccinated in early 2021.
Decreasing vaccine-induced immunity and the emergence of the highly infectious Delta variant may be to blame, the researchers said.
“Because nursing home residents might remain at some risk for ... infection despite vaccination, multiple COVID-19 prevention strategies, including infection control, testing, and vaccination of nursing home staff members, residents, and visitors, are critical,” the study recommended.
FDA OK doesn’t erase unease
As a health care employee, Miller said she will continue to do her part to keep the people around her safe by wearing a mask and washing her hands. However, Miller pointed out that the vaccines “didn’t eradicate the disease,” and she could still catch it even if she’s vaccinated.
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