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OpinionEditorial

Too many health care workers on LI refusing COVID vaccine

A pharmacist holds a vial of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19

A pharmacist holds a vial of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, alongside a vial of saline solution it will be mixed with at a vaccination site. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

Even as millions of New Yorkers clamor for a COVID-19 vaccine, there are many others on Long Island who have easy access to the shot but refuse to take it.

Among them, surprisingly, are some of the region’s health care workers and nursing home staff.

There’s a lot we still need to know about who is refusing to take the vaccine and why. Are health care workers and long-term care staffers hesitant due to their own allergies, or underlying conditions, or fears? Do they have historical reasons to be concerned, like the medical experiments of the past? Are they concerned about a pregnancy? Or, more worrisome, do they disbelieve the science or safety of the vaccines more broadly?

According to previously released New York State data, 46% of the staff at Long Island’s skilled nursing facilities have refused the vaccine, the highest percentage in the state. That’s particularly concerning considering the fact that so far only 74% of long-term care residents have been vaccinated. Our most vulnerable residents need the people taking care of them to be protected, so they in turn can stay safe.

Other data are also worrisome. Statewide, 75% of hospital workers have been vaccinated, but there are still many hospitals with rates far lower. Among them: St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, with one of the lowest staff-vaccination rates in the state, at 53%. By contrast, Syosset Hospital has vaccinated 100% of its workers.

Then there are hospital refusal rates. Catholic Health Services of Long Island is the second-worst hospital system in the state for refusals, with 39% of staff declining the vaccine, state officials said. Ten individual hospitals across the Island have refusal rates at 30% or higher. Long Island’s overall number is better — with nearly 20% of hospital staff refusing the vaccine — but it’s still one of the top three regional rates in the state.

But we need to know more. The state should provide a facility-by-facility dashboard that shows what percentage of staff and what staffing categories — physicians, aides, technicians — are refusing the vaccine at each hospital and long-term care facility. This must be public: residents, patients, and their families deserve to know whether those helping them are protecting themselves.

Refusal detail based on race and ethnicity would help, too, as there are concerns that minorities aren’t taking the vaccine in significant numbers, and each group needs to have its fears addressed.

Meanwhile, the state and the institutions that employ these workers must better address health care and nursing home staff’s concerns and encourage them to take the shot. Combating misinformation and a historically based unease is critical.

State officials have begun to redistribute some of the vaccines that were held in reserve for long-term care workers, and are prepared to do the same for hospital staff. After one last push to convince these workers, it would be wise to redistribute the rest of the doses that are going unused. There are so many others who need it — and want it.

— The editorial board

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