Family practice physician Christina Tuomi, D.O., (right) gets Homer’s first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine from Emergency Department nurse Steve Hughes (left) on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 at South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, Alaska. Tuomi has been the hospital’s medical lead throughout the pandemic. (Photo courtesy Derotha Ferraro/South Peninsula Hospital)

Family practice physician Christina Tuomi, D.O., (right) gets Homer’s first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine from Emergency Department nurse Steve Hughes (left) on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 at South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, Alaska. Tuomi has been the hospital’s medical lead throughout the pandemic. (Photo courtesy Derotha Ferraro/South Peninsula Hospital)

Vaccine hesitancy among local health care workers mirrors national trends

CPH will continue to follow up with employees to see if they are interested in being vaccinated.

More than 50% of the staff at Central Peninsula Hospital and at Southern Peninsula Hospital have been vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s in line with national trends that show the rate of health care workers who have not been vaccinated is just over 40%.

The most recent iteration of a Dittman public opinion survey conducted by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services found that most respondents — 86% — say that the state’s vaccine rollout has been successful. The survey was fielded from Feb. 23 to Feb. 28 among 807 Alaskan adults. Similar surveys were conducted in March, April, May, July and November 2020.

At Central Peninsula Hospital, External Affairs Director Bruce Richards said that the vaccine hesitancy rates they are seeing among staff aren’t different from similar trends nationwide.

A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, for example, found that more than four in 10 health care workers had not been vaccinated, despite being one of the first groups to become eligible. The poll surveyed 1,327 front-line health care workers.

“Even though it seems strange … they’re part of the general public, just like anybody else is,” Richards said. “I think they mirror what the general public has … regarding feelings, you know, about hesitancy.”

Richards said that he’s hopeful that as time goes on workers who remain hesitant are able to get some of their questions answered and concerns addressed.

“Obviously, the main goal here is to reach herd immunity and you’ve got to have a bigger percentage, not in the health care field, but in the general public as well,” Richards said.

Richards said that CPH will continue to follow up with employees to see if they are interested in being vaccinated, as well as putting out information about COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and safety. As other health officials have said, Richards said that vaccines are the way to move past the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We would encourage people to go out and look at the information that’s available on vaccines and the safety and the efficacy of them and really, truly consider getting them,” Richards said. “We would all like to have this behind us and I think that’s the way to get there.”

In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 14,922 of 47,102 residents 16 and older — about 31.68% — had already received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Friday. 6,770 of 11,317 borough residents 65 and older — about 59.82% — had already received at least one dose.

Statewide, nearly one in four eligible Alaska residents — 24.8% — were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Friday. That is compared to the nationwide percentage of the population who have received at least one dose, which NPR’s COVID-19 vaccine tracker estimates is about 22.7%.

South Peninsula Hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro said that just over 50% of all SPH workers, including doctors, nurses, dietary and housekeeping workers, maintenance workers and others, are fully vaccinated. Another 6% have already had their first dose. About 43% have not received any doses.

SPH does not currently offer vaccines specifically for hospital staff, who have to make appointments when they become available like everyone else.

Reasons some staff have said they’re not vaccinated, Ferraro said, include that they’re waiting for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is not yet available in Homer; they’re currently working from home and are waiting until they go back to work; or they’re waiting to give others who may need it more a chance first.

Both Pfizer and BioNTech’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines have efficacy rates of more than 90% and require two doses to be fully effective. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has an efficacy rate of about 66% and only requires one dose.

As of Friday at 2:30 p.m., COVID-19 vaccination appointments were available at several clinics hosted by Soldotna Professional Pharmacy. The Kenai Fire Department will also host a vaccine clinic on March 24 at Beacon Occupational Health in Kenai. That clinic will be for people receiving their first dose and will offer the Moderna vaccine.

More information on the COVID-19 vaccine in Alaska can be found at covidvax.alaska.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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