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Many Tennessee Frontline Health Workers Will Decline The COVID Vaccine

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While many frontline health care workers have been eager to get vaccinated, some in Tennessee are opting out. State officials are seeing signs of more hesitancy than they expected in hospitals.

The state originally figured only about 70% of hospital staff would take the COVID-19 vaccine. Some might not want to because they’re pregnant. Others may have broader concerns about the safety of the vaccine.

But hospitals are seeing even more reluctance than expected, says Dr. Lisa Piercey, who leads the Tennessee Department of Health — and this was supposed to be the easiest group to convince.

State officials are growing more concerned about the uptake among first responders, who are next in line after nursing home staff and residents. Out of more than 100 EMTs, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies in one county the state surveyed, just three said they want the vaccine.

Piercey says she respects everyone’s concerns and hopes that they will come around after more people take the vaccine. But state officials plan to move quickly down the priority list.

“My first priority is getting vaccines in arms as quickly as possible to whoever wants it. So I am not going to slow down my efforts in vaccinating folks while there are people who are hesitant,” Piercey says. “We want to give people an opportunity, but we’re not going to hang around while they’re trying to decide.”

A sprint to year’s end

In Tennessee hospitals, just 16,500 of the 56,000 Pfizer doses were used as of Monday morning. That’s slower than expected, but is likely related to hospitals staggering the vaccines. Side effects could require workers to take a sick day or two afterward.

An estimated 200,000 Tennesseans are supposed to be vaccinated by the end of this year. The state has already started receiving the shipment of 115,000 Moderna doses, with the first shot being delivered by Piercey herself on Monday to a paramedic in Murfreesboro.

The state has also learned it will receive another 40,000 doses from Pfizer in the coming weeks.

Starting immediately after Christmas, the effort to vaccinate nursing home residents and staffers will begin. Walgreens and CVS will administer those doses directly in the facilities.

With new encouragement to vaccinate teachers as soon as possible, Piercey says the state is seriously considering moving educators up to tier one in the state’s vaccination plan. The state is updating its efforts each week here.

Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.
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