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Wisconsin Hopes 'Moveable Middle' Nursing Home Workers Will Take The COVID-19 Vaccine

Chuck Quirmbach
The Allis Care Center serves both short and long term care residents in West Allis.

A federal report released on Feb. 1 says nationally, only 38% of nursing home workers accepted a COVID-19 vaccination shot when it was first offered in December or January.  The document from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the percentage of those workers being immunized may have gone up in the last few weeks. 

Credit Screenshot
Stephanie Schauer, Wisconsin Division of Public Health Immunization Program Manager, speaks to the news media.

That's the hope of Wisconsin Division of Public Health Immunization Program Manager Stephanie Schauer. She said that the pharmacy employees doing the vaccinations at the care facilities will be going there three times.

"I think what you'll see is there certainly are individuals who are early adopters and are stepping up at that first clinic. But there's also a number of folks who are in this, what we call the movable middle — folks who may have questions or find that they may be more willing to be vaccinated once they've seen individuals who they know have been vaccinated and see their experience with it. They just need a little bit more time,” said Schauer.

Leading Age Wisconsin is an association of long-term care providers in the state. Its President and CEO John Sauer said his members report about two-thirds of their workers have been immunized, with some facilities reporting 80 to 85%. But Sauer said he won't be satisfied until as many employees as possible are vaccinated.

“Organizations are doing that through a variety of different incentive programs or celebratory events because the vaccine really is the pathway to going back to some semblance of, you know, normalcy,” he said.

Sauer said he realizes that in some parts of the state, nursing home staffs are quite diverse and may include workers from groups who have a hard time obtaining health care, or worry about the history of medical research. 

"We need to reach out to those individuals, to those ethnic groups and others who feel like they simply do not either understand or trust the science,” said Sauer.

In Janesville last month, about a dozen nursing home employees quit after the facility mandated the COVID-19 vaccine. But Sauer said most homes are taking the approach of working with their caregivers.

He said more than 90% of people who reside at his members' homes have received at least a first dose of the vaccine. That's after a grim year, during which, according to state figures, at least 2,000 Wisconsinites living at long-term care facilities or other group housing have died of COVID-19.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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