Vaccine hesitancy among long-term care staff

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EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — Pennsylvania officials are addressing a growing issue concerning workers at long term care facilities.

That issue? How to get many more staff workers to agree to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

We saw how hard-hit Pennsylvania’s long-term care facilities were during the pandemic. But now with what’s considered the best defense against COVID-19, most of the commonwealth’s long-term care workers haven’t gotten their shot.

“We know COVID-19 can spread quickly and often silently in congregate care settings,” PA Department of Human Services senior advisor Teresa Miller said.

Despite thousands of COVID deaths among Pennsylvania’s long-term care residents, the rate of staff COVID vaccination according to Department of Human Services data released Thursday afternoon tells an alarming story.

“49 percent of staff in personal care homes and assisted living residences have chosen to get vaccinated,” Miller said.

Among Pennsylvania’s long-term care residents, the vaccination rate is 83 percent. So what gives with more than half of the state’s long-term care workers?

“Vaccine hesitancy remains a serious issue as we strive to vaccinate as many people as possible,” Miller said.

Nancy Zionts is Chief Operating Officer and Chief Program Officer of the non-profit Jewish Healthcare Foundation. The non-profit aims to protect vulnerable populations like those in nursing homes.

When Eyewitness News asked Zionts if she considered it an outrage that so many long-term care workers have not been vaccinated to date, she said she is hesitant to use that word but she acknowledged that staff vaccine hesitancy could end up costing lives.

“It’s a very big concern so making sure people understand the risks but helping them to understand what they can gain in terms of also protecting their families,” Zionts said.

“So, we’ve been trying to kind of have an education campaign to help staff, to have them see their colleagues, their leaders around them that are getting vaccinated and hearing directly from them why it was so important to them to get vaccinated,” Miller said.

AARP is also working with state leaders to help protect long-term care residents by reducing staff vaccine hesitancy.

“They are on the front line. They are taking care of our loved ones every day but we need them to take care of themselves as well as those around them and getting this vaccine is so important,” AARP Pennsylvania state director Bill Johnston-Walsh said.

AARP also recommends asking long term care facilities eight questions when it comes to keeping your loved ones safe while living in these facilities. To learn more about that and other resources available to families of long-term care residents visit aarp.org or dhs.pa.gov.

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