Why two long-term care facility workers had a change of heart about the COVID-19 vaccine

Battling vaccine hesitancy among North Carolina’s long-term care workforce

Why two long-term care facility workers had a change of heart about the COVID-19 vaccine
The North Carolina Healthcare Facilities Association estimates about 56 percent of the long-term care facility workforce in North Carolina has agreed to take the COVID-19 vaccine. (Source: wbtv)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - WBTV’s Vaccine Team is checking in on the progress to vaccinate long-term care staff and residents after state leaders expressed concern over vaccine hesitancy in these groups.

During a press conference on January 8, 2021, NCDHHS’ Dr. Mandy Cohen said the state was working to educate and inform the long-term care workforce on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are hearing anecdotal reports of vaccine hesitancy in our long-term care workforce. It is why we have spent a long time thinking about how to partner with folks in our long-term care settings… to make sure we are getting good information out to folks so they feel confident about taking the vaccine when it is their turn,” Dr. Cohen said.

One month after her remarks, WBTV is checking in to see if progress has been made.

According to the North Carolina Health Facility Association’s CEO and President Adam Sholar, an estimated 56 percent of the state’s long-term care workforce has agreed to take the vaccine. Sholar says that number has increased each week by about 1 to 2 percent. He says about 80 percent of residents living in long-term care facilities have agreed to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“You’re going first with something that has just been approved for emergency use for the first time,” Sholar said. “So, there’s that natural hesitancy. Plus, a lot of the workforce is of childbearing age. And we’ve seen a lot of them worried about what it could do during pregnancy or to their fertility.”

According to the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to post a risk to pregnant women or a fetus because mRNA vaccines do not carry the live virus. However, more data is being sought to learn the effects the vaccine may have because clinical trials did not include pregnant women.

The newness of the vaccine is why RoShanda Johnson was not willing to get the vaccine, at first. Johnson is the Director of Resident Care at The Meadows of Rockwell in Rowan County.

“I was definitely against it. I was scared. I didn’t know. I felt like it was rushed,” Johnson said.

Shannon Hagans is Executive Director of Country Time Inn in Kings Mountain. Hagans had similar concerns about rolling up her sleeve.

“I was hesitant myself because I thought this is a new vaccine. What’s it going to do my body,” Hagans said.

Both women saw firsthand the tragedies that result from the COVID-19 pandemic. They say their facilities were on lockdown and quarantine due to COVID-19 outbreaks. It was hard on the residents and staff members, especially with no visitation.

“The last few months of 2020 we was on quarantine and the residents weren’t just confined to the building, they were confined to their rooms,” Johnson said.

“We instantly became their only family during that time,” Hagans said.

Since first being offered the vaccine, both women had a change of heart. Johnson says she decided to get vaccinated after educating her residents on the importance of the vaccine. She decided it was only fair to encourage the vaccine to residents if she would take it too.

“I don’t want to bring something to them. I need to not only protect me, but to protect them as well.”

Now, 100 percent of staff members and residents at The Meadows of Rockwell have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Hagans weighed the pros and cons of getting the vaccine. She says the benefits far outweighed any concerns she had about what the vaccine would do to her body.

“I have a little resident here that has lived here for 6 years… and when I look in her eyes I can see how much she longs to see her son. And without a doubt, between her and my Aunt… that’s when I knew I had to take the vaccine. Not just for me but for her,” Hagans said.

In addition, Hagans says she feels more comfortable being around her aunt who has underlying health conditions and relies on Hagans for care.

“Then, I had thought to myself, you know there at one time the polio vaccine, MMR, and chicken pox. All of these were relatively new. And at that point in history, was everyone fearful, just as fearful, of those vaccines as they are COVID? And had we knot taken those vaccine at that point in time, would we still be battling those issues today?” Hagans questioned.

Hagans ultimately decided to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

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