As of this week, nearly all of the state’s nursing homes confirm residents and staff have been offered the first round of the COVID vaccine. The Florida Department of Health reports the same for just about half of the state’s assisted living facilities. Still, despite vaccine availability, officials say high numbers of staff are refusing the shot.

What You Need To Know

  • Large percentages of nursing home staff members are refusing to get vaccinated

  • Health experts say could put residents who can’t get vaccinated at risk

  • FHCA says staff is provided with educational materials to make their own decisions

“Typically, the resident vaccination rate is twice that of staff,” Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said Thursday on a conference call with long-term care providers.

Rivkees told providers it’s important to encourage staff to get vaccinated, as the low numbers can be dangerous for residents who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons.

There are also concerns that the low rate could create further staffing shortages that are already a problem at many facilities.

“When staff are putting themselves at risk, then that makes staffing at the nursing homes even harder,” said Dr. Lindsay Peterson with USF’s School of Aging Studies.

Peterson points to widespread reports of distrust of the vaccine among minorities who, according to nationwide data, make up more than half of the industry's nursing assistants and residential care aids. 

“Getting past these fears and these ideas that go back decades is not easy, and it takes a strategy,” Peterson said. 

Peterson suggests candid conversations with staff to address concerns, as well as providing educational materials and information from experts.  Though associations we’ve checked in with say those efforts are already underway.

“We have done videos reflecting individuals of different cultures. There are educational tool kits that have CDC information so the staff can review and can make informed decisions,” Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) spokesperson Kristen Knapp said. “I have heard from my members that we are seeing more staff take the vaccine in the second clinic.”

Spectrum News has reached out to the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), the Florida Department of Health, and the Florida Division of Emergency Management multiple times to see if any of the agencies are considering new strategies to increase staff vaccinations but none have responded to our requests.