Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Many long-term care staff in Wisconsin reject vaccine, despite risks

From TMJ4:

Posted at 4:32 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 4:32 PM, Sep 13, 2021

This story originally appeared on 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.

Nationwide, more than 134,000 long-term care facility residents have died from COVID-19. In Wisconsin, 3,220 people have died in such facilities as of Sept. 3 — or 42% of all COVID-19 deaths in the state, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports. In one of the worst outbreaks in Wisconsin, DHS found 191 residents and workers were infected in a single unnamed nursing home.

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

The Wisconsin Health Care Association and the Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living are promoting vaccination among long-term care staff. But their national organizations warn vaccine mandates could worsen a shortage of workers in the industry.

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.

Read more: https://www.tmj4.com/news/coronavirus/many-long-term-care-staff-in-wisconsin-reject-vaccine-despite-risks

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