Wis. health care workers learning as COVID-19 vaccination begins for medical personnel

Updated: Jan. 5, 2021 at 6:35 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - COVID-19 vaccines are new for everyone, including health care workers and they have just as many questions as people without medical backgrounds.

On the frontlines again, medical personnel are among the first to get vaccinated for COVID-19, leading the latest efforts to control the pandemic. State and local health departments along with medical providers have been working to bring employees up to speed as their opportunities to get the shots become available.

Wednesday was the first opportunity for employees at North Central Health Care to get the Moderna vaccine, 72 of whom got the shot, and its chief nursing officer, Jamie Braeken said it has been great to see the staff’s excitement.

“People were stepping in line to be first to take their picture, the first to get vaccinated, so the buzz in the room was really electrifying,” exclaimed.

“We can feel confident that the science supports wide distribution and wide acceptance of the vaccine,” Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the chief medical officer for communicable diseases at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services assured in a call with journalists Tuesday. “Well-conducted, large clinical trials have shown them highly effective and highly safe.”

For some, though, feeling confident can only happen after seeing the information or data behind the vaccine first-hand. NCHC surveyed its employees in early December to get a sense of how they felt about getting vaccinated. It was about an even, three-way split between people who were absolutely going to get it, those who were not, and those who wanted more information. Pew Research Center found similar trends nationally back in October.

“It’s so new. What are the side-effects? It’s mainly that kind of stuff,” Braeken listed the common concerns. “Am I going to get sick? What’s going to happen? Am I going to get a big reaction? Am I going to be home from work again?”

“A lot of my staff have some reservations just in terms of long-term effects,” Samantha Kilty, the director of Colby Retirement Community said, “and I think that goes across the board with everybody.”

Kilty’s staff of 17 has the opportunity to get vaccinated at a drive-thru event hosted by Clark County Thursday. She is confident in the vaccine and believes it is an important step to getting to a post-pandemic world, but she has worked to provide education to her employees so they can get their questions answered and make an informed decision.

“We look to our health care providers as trusted sources as it relates to health care choices and so it is really important that they feel confident and comfortable,” DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said in the call with journalists Tuesday.

She explained education is an ongoing effort. For medical personnel, they have been helping providers get information through their existing infrastructures like health alerts and webinars. They are also looking at broader public education and specific outreach to populations that historically do not trust or do not have good access to medical information.

NCHC has provided its employees with webinars, fact sheets, and conversations to ensure all questions are answered as best they can with the information available. Braeken noted they have updated information to staff as new developments unfold, adding that just having more time to digest and understand information has been an important part for some of those who are unsure. Seeing others they know go through it is also increasing confidence as more staff roll up their sleeves this week.

“People, they’ve been changing their minds after they’ve seen (that) we had a successful clinic and everyone’s been really positive,” Braeken said, “and I think they just needed to hear that.”

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