Declining COVID vaccine, then changing their minds

Savonnda Blaylock, a pharmacy tech at Kaiser in Tracy, was nervous about getting a coronavirus vaccine when she first heard she’d have the opportunity several weeks ago.

“I believed the vaccine had been rushed,” she said, “and I just didn’t want to be used as a test project.”.

But then, Blaylock got infected with the deadly disease and her thinking shifted.

“I couldn’t risk passing this on to someone else,” she said, adding that she didn’t have to be hospitalized but experienced debilitating symptoms that left her wondering whether she’d survive. “I just could not take that chance.”

After talking to friends and colleagues who said they experienced nothing more than a sore arm after getting the shot, Blaylock plans to get vaccinated Wednesday.

Her initial reservations, though, aren’t unique. As Bay Area residents eagerly wait for coronavirus vaccines to become widely available, some health care workers with access to the shots are choosing to hold off on getting inoculated — at least for now.

It’s unclear exactly how many people who have had the opportunity to get the vaccine have chosen to pass.

About 60{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} of Stanford health care workers have gotten vaccinated so far. More than 90{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} of employees at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital have been vaccinated, according to San Francisco’s COVID Command Center, and more than 80{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} of the staff at Laguna Honda, the city’s skilled nursing facility, have gotten the vaccine.

At UCSF Health, nearly 20,000 frontline workers have been invited to get the vaccine and more than 80{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} have accepted so far. A broader survey by the University of California found only 2{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} of the system’s health care workers have declined or postponed getting a vaccine.

According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 29{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} of health care workers say they are probably not going to get vaccinated — a higher figure than the 27{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} of the overall population that is hesitant to get vaccinated.

Overall, the survey found the main reasons people are hesitant included concerns about side effects, a lack of trust in the government to make sure the vaccine is safe and effective, and concerns that the vaccine is too new. Social media has also fueled false conspiracy theories, such as that the vaccine causes fertility problems.

The state is conducting a survey on vaccinations, but it has not been released. County public health departments say they don’t yet have a good estimate for how many people are declining vaccinations. And major hospital systems like Kaiser have declined to say what percentage of their workforce is turning down or deferring a vaccine.

“Part of the issue is this is a very distributed and diffuse process on top of a famously fragmented health system,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy group.

The Food and Drug Administration says the available vaccines meet their rigorous standards. The side effects of the vaccine are mild and people cannot get the coronavirus from the shot. But officials acknowledge there is some reluctance to get vaccinated, even among health care workers. Some say they want to wait awhile to see if any longer-term side effects emerge. And others are wary for different reasons.

At Stanford, the 40{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} of health care workers who have not gotten vaccinated have been invited to receive a shot. It’s unclear how many of those remaining plan to get vaccinated.

“On the positive side, vaccine confidence has qualitatively improved overall,” said Grace Lee, an infectious disease expert at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. “But we still need to ensure that we are addressing vaccine hesitancy. It requires enhanced efforts – working with trusted leaders, going to meet with teams, listening to and answering all questions they may have. It’s hard to do, particularly as everyone is focused on speed, but it can and should be done.”

According to the Associated Press, many health care workers in nursing homes and hospitals across the country are refusing shots — and in some places, up to 80{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} of staff are saying no. Some states, like South Carolina, have given health care workers until mid-January to get a shot or lose their spot at the front of the line.

“When you’re talking about a category of over a million people in California, by definition they are going to have a lot of the same diversity of views and beliefs and backgrounds as the population as a whole,” Wright said of health care workers.

Some health care workers are opting out because they feel the limited supply of vaccines should go to people more at risk of dying from the coronavirus.

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