When Nurses Won't Vax
Bloomberg Businessweek|August 30, 2021
Some are walking off the job instead of scheduling a shot, compounding the sector’s staffing woes
Anne Riley Moffat

Mandate the vaccine, and some of your nurses will quit. Don’t mandate the vaccine, and some of your nurses will get Covid—rendering them unable to work, or even landing them in the very intensive care unit where they normally work. For a hospital administrator who’s been dealing with nursing shortages escalating throughout the pandemic, this is the dilemma.

“It’s a cynical question, but what gets us to losing the higher amount of staff?” says Alan Levine, chief executive officer of Ballad Health, which has 21 hospitals and other centers serving patients in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. He decided not to require vaccinations for his healthcare workers after modeling suggested he could see 15% of nurses, or as many as 900, leave if he did. That’s more than he anticipates losing to Covid-19 quarantines and illness, even with the most recent surge filling up the network’s ICUs and 130 staffers quarantining on a single mid-August day. At Ballad, 97% of doctors are vaccinated. Among front-line nurses, he estimates, vaccination rates hover around 50%.

It’s hard to see how nurses, who see firsthand evidence of how Covid can kill people, could oppose getting a vaccine that’s been shown in numerous studies to provide extraordinary protection against severe illness and death. But it’s a problem hospital administrators all over the country find themselves facing. In the most recent survey by the American Nurses Association, fielded as part of a broader coalition of nursing groups intended to combat vaccine hesitancy in its ranks, almost 1 in 8 hadn’t gotten the vaccine or didn’t plan to, despite having had access to the shots for almost nine months.

“The overwhelming number of our nurses are female and young and in childbearing years,” Levine says. Rumors on social media caused some young women to fear that the mRNA vaccines such as those made by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. could affect their fertility. That’s not true. But it’s a worry that’s taken firm hold in some circles, even after the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said publicly that there is no evidence the vaccine harms fertility.

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