The road to getting the COVID-19 vaccine has been—pardon my French—paved with shit.
From former President Trump’s longtime promises of a vaccine, like, yesterday to a completely fumbled rollout where health care professions are literally running around trying to find people to vaccinate, it’s been an uphill battle to get the deadly virus under control.
But even after the FDA approved two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna in late 2020, there’s been another sort of resistance: a rejection of the vaccine altogether—even from the people who work in health care.
According to a study conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation, 3 in 10 people who work in a health care delivery setting are adamant about not getting the two-part shot. And per Walgreens senior vice president of pharmacy and health care Rick Gates, roughly 60 percent of employees at long-term care facilities declined the shots. This is a concern for a number of reasons, but the most glaring one is that so many of our health care workers are exposed to the most vulnerable members of our community, the elderly.
When COVID-19 first broke out, nursing homes were among those hit hardest by the virus. In horrific record time, nursing homes across the country became hot spots for the virus. An expansive study conducted by the AARP Public Policy Institute found that there have been more than 136,000 deaths of residents and staff across nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
At this, you might be thinking, if a pandemic has taken more than 136,000 lives at your workplace, wouldn’t it be common sense to get vaccinated?
To which I would respond: No shit.
Like many people, I have family members placed in the care of long-term facilities like nursing homes. The specific agreement between family and facility may vary, but the objective of nursing homes stays the same: When you bring an elderly person into a facility, the underlying promise, whether formally stated or implied, is that the staff will care, protect, and support your family member in your absence. For that same staff to refuse to get vaccinated, on whatever ground, is a huge breach of that trust. It shouldn’t be controversial or optional to say that if your job is to be responsible for vulnerable members of our community, it should be mandatory to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
But as we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic, the country is struggling with the idea of putting others first and being part of a community. Of course, some people—like those with specific allergies—have valid concerns about the vaccine, but recent reports about nursing home employees refusing the shot mention no such thing.
It’s already infuriating enough to see our peers break social distancing protocols to grab brunch or throw a party for the Super Bowl (yeah, that happened). But my fury reaches a whole other level when I see the people responsible for elder care put those in their care’s lives at risk. For health care workers who refuse to be vaccinated, there is a level of irresponsibility that is more cruel than just flat-out careless.
Unlike the rest of the population, nursing home residents are entirely dependent on the staff for 24/7 supervision. When I say the lives of our elders are in the hands of the staff, it is not an exaggeration or a metaphor—it is a commitment that literally is life or death.
Even more unfortunate, this isn’t even a hypothetical scenario. In the past few months, we’ve seen nursing homes across the country—particularly those in rural areas, where GOP leaders continue to undermine the severity of the virus—account for more than 40 percent of COVID-19 fatalities. Even typing those words, I am filled with a rage that I thought I had exhausted from constant exposure to the selfishness of others since last March.
In America, we continue to live in a land where “personal freedom” somehow translates into “my inconsideration will literally kill people and that’s okay.”
Except it’s not okay. Or it shouldn’t be—on a policy or personal level. This is a symptom of a larger problem of Americans justifying their reckless actions—or in this case, inaction—even though science and the last 11 months have proven that this virus is not going away until we all come together. And the people who should know that best are the very people who are responsible for some of the most preventable deaths since the pandemic started.
TL;DR: Iff you work in health care, get the f*cking vaccine. Or quit.
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