Witham Health Services officials said as of Feb. 17, more than 51 percent of the hospital’s associates have elected to receive a COVID-19 vaccine through the hospital. A Boone County official called the percentage “concerning” because of expectations of much higher participation.
The percentage only represents health care workers and staff who received vaccinations at the hospital. Some have gone to other clinics or hospitals for vaccinations, according to Witham officials. Witham employees are not required to disclose if they have received the vaccine, so officials said they can only report those that come through Witham’s clinic.
Boone County Commissioner Tom Santelli said he found Witham’s 51 percent figure concerning for several reasons. He said county officials want at least 70 to 80 percent of all residents to get vaccinated. Health officials estimate the same figure is approximately the percentage of people who would need to be vaccinated to establish herd immunity to COVID-19. Santelli said if health care workers aren’t willing to be vaccinated at that rate, it might be difficult to reach herd immunity in the general population.
The Indiana State Dept. of Health reports 68 percent of health care workers and first responders in the state had received vaccination as of Feb. 17. In Indiana, 57 percent of Hoosiers 80 and older have been received immunizations and 65 percent of Hoosiers 70 and older have been vaccinated.
Mary Beth Searles, Witham’s director of marketing and public relations, said some employees have contracted the disease in recent months and have chosen to wait to receive a vaccine. According to Witham officials, some previously infected employees want others who may be more vulnerable to the disease to receive a vaccine because they believe their natural immunity, which health officials estimate lasts at least three months in most cases, likely provides enough protection from reinfection.
“Those people feel at this time they have the coverage so that they can wait at least three months for the vaccine,” said Gene Davis, Witham’s infection control director.
Searles said some employees are waiting to see how the vaccine affects their friends’ health, while others are concerned about its effect on fertility, which she said is a misconception.
“We hope with additional education and time this number will significantly improve, and we will continue to work on it until it is,” Searles wrote in an email.
“I’m extremely thankful for the people who have taken it,” Davis said. “It is a choice. It’s an individual decision that people have to make, and I have repeatedly said to people that I’m going to respect the choice people make because I’m not sure the reasons each person has. I don’t know how much they have put into this, studying the reasons for it. We have tried to provide our staff information so (that) they feel comfortable and educate them as things would come up.
“If there would be something that would be maybe a knowledge deficit, we have given them the tools. We have given them the information to help them so (that) they can make an informed decision in this.”
Santelli echoed Davis’ comments, agreeing that each person’s decision about the vaccine should be respected. But he said he is concerned as a potential patient.
“I think we all go into a hospital knowing that (health care workers) were the first in line to be vaccinated (and expect) that there would be a high level of participation,” Santelli said. “I would think that the hospitals and staff would want to work very hard to control the spread of the virus. And certainly, getting vaccinated is a strong contribution to that. So, yes, it is concerning.”
Davis said Witham’s vaccination clinic at its Lebanon hospital has exhausted its shipments of first doses of the Moderna vaccine and is trying to finish its shipments of second doses of the vaccine. Davis added that the hospital also administers Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines. The clinic administers vaccinations to eligible Hoosiers with an appointment. When the shipments of Moderna vaccines are depleted, the hospital will only offer Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, he said.
Eligible Hoosiers can schedule an appointment by visiting ourshot.in.gov or by calling 2-1-1.