Vaccine opponents rebrand as rollout of Covid-19 shots looms

Those likely to confront the issue during the first weeks that vaccines are available include hospitals and health care systems whose high-risk workers will be given priority access to the shots.

The ethical issues surrounding Covid-19 vaccine mandates are particularly thorny for hospitals, said Lawrence Gostin, director of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

“The hospital is there to heal,” he said. “They’re mandated to protect all their staff, and all of their patients, and somebody certainly has rights to freedom and autonomy — but they don’t have the right to expose other people to dangerous infections.”

The two vaccines now undergoing FDA review, from Moderna and Pfizer, have proven more than 90 percent effective in late-stage human studies of tens of thousands of people, with no serious side effects. They are poised for emergency authorization less than a year after they were created — a record-breaking achievement made possible by accelerating the normal development timeline.

But hospitals and health systems have so far seen a tepid response to the vaccines among their workers. National Nurses United, the country’s largest nursing union, is fighting against any vaccination mandates until detailed data from the Moderna and Pfizer trials is publicly available.

“We do believe this will be an experimental vaccine for some time,” said Michelle Mahon, a representative of the union. She added that nurses are not generally skeptical of vaccines — and that last year, more than 92 percent of registered nurses got a seasonal flu shot.

Another major health workers’ union, SEIU-United Workers West, has been urging for months that Covid-19 vaccines remain voluntary. But the group says that its members should still be given priority to access to the shots.

A representative of the Federation of American Hospitals said none of its members — all for-profit health systems — are making vaccination mandatory at this point. A hospital lobbyist told POLITICO that some health systems are considering requiring their employees to get the vaccines only after they have full FDA approval.

Those plans could change if health care workers become more comfortable with the vaccines over time. Americans’ overall trust and willingness to get Covid-19 shots has ticked up since Moderna and Pfizer released the final results of their vaccine trials last month.

Roughly 60 percent of U.S. residents would be willing to get a coronavirus shot, according to a Gallup poll released in November — up from 50 percent in September.

Getting health care workers on board with Covid-19 vaccination will be crucial to increase acceptance of the shots, a top Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Official said Friday.

“I know the person most people listen to most is their health provider,” said Jay Butler, CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases. “We want to make sure information is provided to providers as quickly as possible.”

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