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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Healthcare Workers Step Up for COVID-19 Vaccination

By Gary Evans, Medical Writer

Healthcare workers who initially were hesitant to take one of the rapidly developed COVID-19 vaccines are rolling up their sleeves.

“For me, at the end of the day, it came down to, ‘Somebody’s got to get it,” says Courtney Paschal, ADN, RN, an emergency nurse at a VA hospital Augusta, GA. “That’s how we beat polio and measles — somebody had to get [immunized]. Is there a risk? Absolutely. But this is me standing up and getting this vaccine so we can somehow tackle this virus and save people that I care about in the future. That is a small price to pay for me.”

The vaccination program at her facility was just getting underway when we talked to Paschal, and she was on the list to be immunized.

“Our facility was only able to lock in [a limited number of] vaccines,” she says. “Ideally you want to offer it to all healthcare workers, but the priority was to set it aside for any clinical worker in the emergency room or the ICU because we primarily handle the COVID patients."

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two “messenger RNA” vaccines for COVID-19, both having an efficacy of about 95%. At a Dec. 10 meeting, the FDA approved the use of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. (NYC) and BioNTech (Mainz, DEU) in the United States for those age 16 years and older. The FDA followed at a Dec. 17 meeting with approval of a vaccine by Moderna Inc. (Cambridge, MA) for those age 18 years and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has voted in favor of distributing both of the vaccines, with healthcare workers a top priority to be immunized.

Both vaccines were developed at a record pace — less than one year — raising safety concerns due to perceptions that the process had been politicized in an election year.

“I’ll be honest with you, at the very beginning I was one of those that was absolutely not going to do it,” Paschal says.

She began researching the vaccines and talking to experts, becoming convinced it was the best option when she saw two of her colleagues get infected with coronavirus.

“I’m 32 and I work with two other nurses my same age with no comorbidities,” she says. “They have both gone to the ICU. It doesn’t discriminate. There is no rhyme or reason of who gets it and why some get so sick. It’s very unpredictable.”

Although there is has been some logistical chaos and delays as the vaccine rolls out, there is the growing perception that healthcare workers are going to welcome immunization at a time when the pandemic is worsening.

“I have two young children and grandparents that I take care of, so I am constantly worried about what I’m going to bring home,” Paschal says. “I think I’m going to find a little comfort in having some added protection for myself and others around me.”

For more on this story, see the next issue of Hospital Employee Health.