The leaders of several area long-term-care centers report that half or less of their staff have agreed to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
One of them is the Dubuque County-run Sunnycrest Manor in Dubuque.
The facility’s interim administrator, Tammy Freiburger, told county supervisors Monday that 90 of the 91 residents agreed — or their legal guardians did on their behalf — to get the vaccine. But of the 164 Sunnycrest employees, just 46% signed up for the first round of the vaccine when it was administered last week.
Supervisor Jay Wickham said he was disappointed by that figure.
“The vaccination is our relief and our hope to get out of this,” he said. “We must get compliance within the medical community who are serving our most vulnerable to get vaccinated. I would plead with all the professionals at Sunnycrest to seriously consider and take the vaccine.”
The first phase of the two vaccines against the novel coronavirus has been approved for health care workers and the residents and staff of long-term-care facilities. In Iowa, thousands of doses already have been administered in Dubuque County and its neighboring counties.
The Iowa Department of Public Health on Monday released county-level COVID-19 vaccination data for the first time. It showed that more than 3,000 Dubuque County residents have received at least one of the two doses necessary for full protection. Nearly 700 residents each in Delaware and Jones counties also have received at least one dose, while the total for Jackson County was 450 and Clayton County, 365.
Public health officials are mobilized to try to get all the vaccines where they need to be. Visiting Nurse Association Administrator Stacey Killian was unable to attend Monday’s meeting of the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors because she was on the road to Clayton County to pick up vaccine doses from there that were beyond what that county needed for the first phase of administration.
But at some local long-term-care centers, the staff eligible for the vaccine are not interested in receiving it. The phenomenon isn’t limited to the local area, though — media reports have documented similar levels of disinterest at some — but far from all — facilities in different locations across the country.
Sunnycrest’s Freiburger is optimistic she can get the staff percentage higher, but maybe only slightly.
“I believe I’ll be able to get that up to at least 50% in the end,” she told the county supervisors. “There are a few reasons I don’t think I’ll be able to get past — religious reasons, other things that make it difficult to persuade them. But there are a lot of people who (incorrectly) thought, ‘I heard you get COVID if you get a COVID shot. I heard it was a live virus.’ A lot of people, too, were able to see those of us who got it and were just fine.”
Janet Warren, administrator of Luther Manor Communities, with campuses in Dubuque and Asbury, Iowa, said she faced some challenges as well. She said she thought that between one-third and one-half of her 293 employees had signed on for the vaccine.
“With staff, the interest was not as high, but we were still really pleased with the number we did get,” she said.
Staff at Bell Tower Retirement assisted-living facility in East Dubuque, Ill., are gearing up for their first round as well. Manager Vicki Nemmers reported that about 50% of her staff had opted out of the vaccine.
Both Sunnycrest and Luther Manor reported that they had engaged in extensive information campaigns internally to try to convince staff.
“I have been able to review different things with them and now have four persons who said, ‘I didn’t understand enough before. I understand better now. Can I get it right now?’” Freiburger said. “I also have a campaign of pictures I took and where I asked the staff, ‘Why did you get your vaccine?’ I’m posting those all around Sunnycrest so real people are putting their words in different ways, in hopes of reaching the staff who said no or were just on the fence.”
Warren said Luther Manor management had tried to ease staff who might be uncertain.
“We’ve been sending out a lot of information so they can learn about it and ask any questions ahead of time,” she said. “On the day of, we had a photo booth and snacks. We wanted it to be upbeat and as fun as it can be just to alleviate some of the trepidation.”
Freiburger said a few staff also were convinced when an outbreak recently hit in one of Sunnycrest’s wings. She reported that, as of Monday, nine residents had tested positive for COVID-19.
Messages left with several other long-term-care-centers seeking comment for this story were not returned Monday.