LOS ANGELES – They are front-line workers with top priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine, but they are refusing to take it.
At St. Elizabeth Community Hospital in Tehama County, California, fewer than half of the 700 hospital workers eligible for the vaccine were willing to take the shot when it was first offered. At Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, one in five front-line nurses and doctors have declined the shot. Roughly 20% to 40% of the L.A. County's front-line workers who were offered the vaccine did the same, according to county public health officials.
So many front-line workers in Riverside County have refused the vaccine — an estimated 50% — that hospital and public officials met to strategize how best to distribute the unused doses, Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said.
The vaccine doubts swirling among healthcare workers across the country come as a surprise to researchers, who assumed hospital staff would be among those most in tune with the scientific data backing the vaccines.
The scientific evidence is clear regarding the safety and efficacy of the vaccines after trials involving tens of thousands of participants, including elderly people and those with chronic health conditions. The shots are recommended for everyone except those who have had a severe allergic reaction to any of the ingredients.
Still, skepticism remains.
April Lu, a 31-year-old nurse at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, said she refused to take the vaccine because she is not convinced it is safe for pregnant women. She is six months pregnant.
Clinical trials have yet to be conducted on pregnant women who take the vaccine, but experts believe the vaccine is unlikely to pose a specific risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The agency says pregnant women may choose to be vaccinated.
"I'm choosing the risk — the risk of having COVID, or the risk of the unknown of the vaccine. I think I'm choosing the risk of COVID. I can control that and prevent it a little by wearing masks, although not 100% for sure," Lu said.
Some of her co-workers have also declined to take the vaccine because they've gone months without contracting the virus and believe they have a good chance of surviving it, she said. "I feel people think, 'I can still make it until this ends without getting the vaccine,'" she said.