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'No one wants to be a guinea pig' | Vaccine hesitancy divides health care workers

The American Nurses Foundation is reporting 36% of nurses surveyed said they would not voluntarily get the COVID-19 vaccine once it's deployed.

WASHINGTON — Authorities are reporting early shipments of the COVID 19 vaccine will not cover all essential personnel who are supposed to be first in line to get it. The CDC's immunization advisory panel voted Tuesday to give the first round of COVID-19 vaccines to health care personnel and long-term care facility residents. 

Hundreds of thousands of frontline medical workers are at the top of that list. But surveys are showing that not all are eager to be first.

While 63% of health care workers reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that they would accept the vaccine, the agency is concerned about the large numbers who are hesitant. The American Nurses Foundation is reporting 36% of nurses surveyed said they would not voluntarily get the COVID-19 vaccine once it's deployed.

Maryland-based registered nurse Amelia Foster said she supports the "direction" of the vaccine effort, but would like to see longer-term data before she is confident it is safe.

“You just don't know what the effects are and that's scary," Foster said. "No one wants to be a guinea pig. Every medication out there has its risks and side effects. Not everyone is affected, but it could possibly make your immune system go haywire and that's scary."

RELATED: Gov. Northam outlines who will get COVID-19 vaccines first in Virginia


Foster expects she will be required by employers to take the vaccine regardless of her hesitancy.

Cardiac nurse practitioner Kate Knott said she is shocked by the number of colleagues who are hesitant. Knott is currently recovering from a bout with COVID-19, along with her husband and 8-year-old daughter after being diagnosed three weeks ago. She said she would have gladly taken the vaccine instead of dealing with the virus.

“I mean I'm 80% at this point," Knott said. "I still get short of breath. I still can't really taste or smell. Those symptoms aren't the end of the world, I can manage through it, but there are too many people dying from this damned virus. The father of my husband's best friend from college died the day after Thanksgiving from it." 

Knott said she’s taking her cues from Dr. Anthony Fauci at the NIH, a figure she trusts.

"Governor Hogan said where the damn mask --  get the damned vaccine!” Knott said.

But concerns about political interference are a factor, according to many health care workers surveyed.

Dr. Tony Yang at the George Washington University Milken Institute of Public Health is calling for an intensive campaign targeting nurses first.

“The government invested billions of dollars into the production of their vaccines, but there's a dire need to invest into education," Yang said. "COVID vaccine education that starts with nurses can really help here.”

Maryland authorities say they cannot force health systems or their employees to take the vaccine once it’s deployed.

However, medical systems and employers have the right to make being vaccinated a condition of employment, with few exceptions, according to attorney Erik Eisenmann the chief of the labor and employment group for Husch Blackwell in Milwaukee, WI.

RELATED: Firefighters frustrated to be left out of CDC advisory panel's first round of COVID vaccine recipients

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