Ashley Thornton can get the COVID vaccine any time she wants it. But she doesn’t want it, at least not yet.
“I’m apprehensive to get the vaccine,” she said. Why? Bad experience with vaccines, for starters.
“Out of everyone, I’m the person who gets the flu from the flu shot,” said Thornton, staffing coordinator for the emergency department at Roseland Community Hospital, where more than half of the staff — 57% — have declined the vaccine that many nationwide are clamoring for.
This is not uncommon, but repeated at hospitals and medical facilities; only 56% of staff at Mount Sinai have gotten a vaccine shot. A Centers for Disease Control study found 77.8% of residents in nursing homes took the vaccine, while the proportion of vaccinated staff is less than half that — 37.5%.
Thornton is troubled by how quickly the vaccines were developed.
“I just think it hasn’t been out long enough for the proper tests and protocols to be done before I inject that into my body,” she said.
And there is another reason.
“Honestly, people of color are more apprehensive because of the Tuskegee experiment,” she said.
An infamous low in American medical research, an experiment run by the government from 1932 to 1972, where 600 Black men living around Tuskegee, Alabama were studied for the effects of untreated syphilis, without their knowledge or consent.
Nikia Glenn, director of human services at Roseland, was also skeptical of the vaccine, troubled, as a Black woman, by the idea of simply accepting what the government was pushing on you.
“It’s a cultural thing for us,” she said. “We always have some type of conspiracy theory, because of how our ancestors were treated. We’re not very trusting.”
Then there was the fact that Glenn already had COVID — more than half of the staff at Roseland has had it, being a front line hospital slammed hard by the pandemic. The CDC recommends people who have had COVID get vaccinated anyway, because medicine doesn’t yet understand how COVID works, long term, and a vaccine will fortify the immunity provided by having had the virus.
Yet Glenn eventually got the vaccine.
“The turning point for me [was] when Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett came in with Rev. Jesse Jackson, and I learned about Dr. Corbett’s involvement with coming up with the vaccine,” Glenn said.
Corbett, a research fellow at the National Institute of Health, was a leader on the team of scientists developing the Moderna vaccine.
Roseland has tried to drum up support for vaccines — sending emails, making videos, even holding weekly raffles where staffers must be vaccinated to enter. Jackson coming in for his shot in January seemed a perfect opportunity to continue those efforts.
“He set a great example with Dr. Corbett,” said Tim Egan, CEO of Roseland, where the staff vaccination rate started out at only 23%. “Having those two dynamic people really set a tone not only for our employees but the community. We’ve seen acceptance skyrocket.
“It inspired me, and made me more confident,” Glenn said. “I felt I had to do what I had to do for my family, and being more knowledgeable of where the vaccine came from.”
Thornton also has had COVID-19 — too recently to take the vaccine.
“Once you’ve had COVID you can’t get the vaccine for 90 days, and I’m still in that 90-day period of recovery,” she said.
“My mom’s older, she’s been vaccinated, and her experience was great. That’s probably the only reason that makes me lean toward possibly getting it, once I get out of my recovery period,” Thornton said. “I’m around my mom a lot, and I don’t want to re-catch COVID and potentially pass it on to my mom and grandmother. I might get vaccinated. I’m still a little cautious.”
And then there is Herman Griffin, who works in supply at Roseland.
“Both shots,” he said. “I had no problem, no complications. Beautiful.”
Was it difficult for him to decide to get the vaccine?
“No, it wasn’t,” he said. “It was just a matter of me finding the time to do it. I always wanted to get the shot.”
No concerns of Bill Gates using the vaccine to put microchips in your bloodstream, or the whole thing being some racist government experiment?
“No way, I never had that fear at all,” he said.
What does he tell his colleagues who are reluctant to get vaccinated?
“I have met people who feel that way; they don’t trust something done this quickly,” said Griffin. “They want to wait a while and make sure there’s no problems. I encourage them, I try to wipe away all doubts about the vaccine. I tell them to follow the science. Let’s do this, let’s get this COVID behind them.”