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Some Health Care Workers Are Wary Of Getting COVID-19 Vaccines


Health care workers will be among the first to be offered COVID-19 vaccines. They're meant to protect health care workers and their patients and to serve as a signal to the public. But some doctors and nurses are skeptical and reluctant. NPR's Pien Huang reports.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Dr. Kida Thompson is a family physician in El Paso, Texas. It's a city in the middle of a huge surge right now.

KIDA THOMPSON: The only way to probably really stop that spread is to have a decent amount of the population be vaccinated. But for the ones of us who are asking questions, there are just a lot of questions - just a lot.

HUANG: Dr. Thompson is a big fan of vaccines in general. But the fact that COVID-19 vaccines have come together so quickly and that the government says they'll be free can sound a little too good to be true.

THOMPSON: Fast and free - that just doesn't equate. Nothing in this world is that.

HUANG: And until she gets her questions about COVID vaccines answered, she's skeptical and not ready to get one. Doctors like Thompson, along with nurses, aides and other health care workers, are expected to be the first priority group to be offered a COVID vaccine when one is authorized. And they're under pressure to get it. Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford, says it's an important group to get vaccinated.

YVONNE MALDONADO: We want to be sure that our health care workers are safe so that they can protect their patients from disease and that they can be protected and do their work.

HUANG: They're also big influencers on their patients. But enough health care workers are expressing concerns and anxiety about getting COVID vaccines that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says addressing hesitancy in this group is a top priority. Dr. Anuj Mehta, a member of Colorado's emergency response committee, says it's not a group they had expected to need convincing.

ANUJ MEHTA: We initially did not think it would be such an issue with health care workers, and then obviously the process has been politicized a lot lately. And so we're seeing growing amounts of vaccine hesitancy.

HUANG: Michelle Mahon is a registered nurse representing National Nurses United. It's a union with more than 150,000 members across the country. She says the way the pandemic has played out has not been reassuring to health care workers who feel exhausted and under protected.

MICHELLE MAHON: This is the same population that was told earlier this year that they should just go battle COVID-19 wearing a bandana or a scarf.

HUANG: Mahon says they want to see clear data on safety and efficacy before they sign on to get a brand-new vaccine. That's what Dr. Thompson wants, too. She reads The New England Journal of Medicine and follows vaccine news closely. And she says a lot of facts just aren't available yet.

THOMPSON: I would still need convincing - legitimately still need convincing. Yeah.

HUANG: As a doctor, she's worried about side effects. For her hospital and her patients, she's worried about costs. But Thompson says she can be swayed. If companies release trial data, she'll judge for herself whether a vaccine is safe. If her doctor friends choose to get the vaccine, that could convince her, too. And even though she's wary of government officials, she does believe in at least one top infectious disease expert - Dr. Anthony Fauci.

THOMPSON: I trust him. He's so cute. I trust him and I trust what he says. And he's shown that he's able to actually stand on his own two feet during this whole thing without being swayed.

HUANG: That's what Thompson is trying to do, too. She's going to look at the facts and make up her own mind. Once she's convinced, she'll be able to make the case to her patients. She's already been telling them to wear masks nonstop. Pien Huang, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUILTY GHOSTS' "INDIGO OF THE KINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.
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