TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – According to the Florida Department of Emergency Management, only about 35% of staff in long-term care facilities in Florida has chosen to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The state of Florida is focused on ensuring staff and residents of long-term care facilities have access to the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. Gov. DeSantis understands how important this is and demonstrated his commitment by directing the Division of Emergency Management to accelerate vaccinations of long-term care residents,” FDEM press secretary Samantha Bequer said.
Breaking down the data
According to the Florida Department of Emergency management as of Wednesday: “All of Florida’s nursing homes have had the opportunity to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly 68% of residents and nearly 36% of staff in Florida’s nursing homes chose to receive the vaccine on the first visit.”
Moreover in the 90% of assisted-living facilities that have had the opportunity to get vaccines in the state, “more than 82% of residents and more than 35% of staff in Florida’s assisted living facilities chose to receive the vaccine on the first visit.”
The data coincides with a report from the Florida Assisted Living Association, which did a study after the Florida Department of Health reported 35% of employees agreed to receive the vaccines in the 3,135 assisted-living facilities in the state, according to agency leaders.
“I believe some staff members are hesitant to receive the vaccine for the same reason that the general public is hesitant: overall trust in vaccine safety. People need time to observe and trust the reactions of those who have been inoculated. There also needs to be increased education about the vaccine, its effects and its impact,” FALA CEO Veronica Catoe wrote in the report.
Explaining the concerns
The data, however, is concerning for families of loved ones in Florida’s long-term care facilities.
Carmen Vasey’s 89-year-old father spent three days in a hospital after getting COVID-19 in his long-term care facility in Kissimmee. He has since recovered and already received his second shot, but Vasey is not comfortable with the statewide average of staff getting vaccinated. She said she does not know how many employees got vaccinated at her father’s facility.
However, she said after her 44-year-old son had a severe case and was also admitted to a hospital, she does not want her father at risk again.
“It’s very worrisome, I don’t want him to get sick again,” Vasey said. “That’s my worry, with a worker possibly coming in with a variant that even though my dad has a vaccine, we do not know enough. They can’t tell us for sure that you can’t catch the new variant.”
Beverly Bitterman’s 93-year-old mother received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at her Tampa Bay area facility on Thursday. Bitterman, being a nurse practitioner herself, will be getting her second dose next week. She’s also concerned about the lower amount of health care workers in long-term care facilities wanting the vaccine.
“I’m really concerned about that. I think it’s a little higher at my mother’s, I was told 50%,” Bitterman said. “I have talked to some of the caregivers, they are unsure about getting it, they want to wait and see. My concern is the virus will continue to come into the community in some way.”
In response to the data, executive directors and leadership of long-term care facilities are pushing out different educational campaigns.
According to the chief medical officer at the Good Samaritan Society, a group of more than 500 long-term care and senior communities in 24 states, only about 37% of staff want to get vaccinated in their facilities, compared to more than 80% of residents.
“When we see the numbers lower on the staff side, yeah it is a concern,” Dr. Gregory Johnson said. “We would like to see the numbers a lot of higher than they are.”
To bring those numbers up as second and third rounds of vaccination clinics are currently taking place, Johnson and the staff at the Good Samaritan Society have hosted several Facebook Lives, educational campaigns and video messages educating and encouraging staff about the importance of getting vaccinated.
“There is a new term vaccine hesitancy, right? So I do these myth busters as part of education and there are a lot of questions and concerns out there,” Johnson said. “I think it’s about talking about it and continue to beat the drum.”
However, Johnson is hopeful many of those staff in long-term care facilities will overcome that hesitancy with time after witnessing residents get their first and second doses.
“We have seen on the second vaccination day, there are a lot of people who are raising their hands who didn’t the first time,” Johnson said. “I think they saw other people got it and everything went OK.”
President and CEO of Florida’s Senior Living Association Gail Matillo agrees. She said the percentage could be lower in the state due to the state’s rush to get those first doses out quickly. Some facilities reported the state showing up with little notice in the first round of vaccinations.
“They were moving through the state so quickly that sometimes scheduling was a problem. Communities were scrambling to get staff to come in,” Matillo said.
She added some facilities also purposely staggered the schedule for staff getting the vaccine.
“We learned that communities purposely staggered their staff in getting the first round of shots, purposely to make sure if there were any reactions, then not all staff will be out at the same time,” she added.
The Florida Senior Living Association is encouraging leadership in their communities to get vaccinated as an example and said that too has helped with hesitancy.
“We are hopeful, we think a large number of staff will take the vaccine in the second and third clinics,” she added.