Nursing home workers in Wisconsin outpace their co-workers nationally in accepting COVID-19 vaccine

    Male caretaker helping senior man with walker in nursing home
    Getty Images Male caretaker helping senior man with walker in nursing home

    Although a national study reports that nearly two-thirds of nursing home workers who have been offered the COVID-19 vaccine have turned it down, Wisconsin appears to be an exception.

    Nearly two out of three of the state’s nursing home workers who have been offered the vaccine have accepted it, according to the state Department of Health Services (DHS), and both state and industry officials say they expect acceptance to increase over time.

    By contrast, according to a report in the weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among more than 11,000 nursing homes where vaccinations have been offered, just 37.5% of staff members have had at least a first shot. (Both of the first two COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are given in a two-shot series over several weeks.) The report was published online Feb. 1.

    About 60-65% of Wisconsin nursing home workers have been vaccinated, DHS spokesperson Elizabeth Goodsitt told the Wisconsin Examiner. The department gets its data from reports filed electronically by Walgreens and CVS pharmacies, which have been giving the vaccine to nursing home residents and employees under a federal program.

    “We’re seeing numbers that are substantially higher than what is being reported from around the country,” said John Sauer, president of Leading Age Wisconsin, in a telephone interview. “We’re looking at staff vaccination rates in the neighborhood of 60% to 65%, as an average, and we’ve seen a number of facilities in the 80-85% range.”

    Leading Age Wisconsin represents nonprofit and county-owned nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the state.

    The CDC report says that people who hesitate to get a vaccine may do so because they think the vaccine was developed too quickly; they lack information about vaccine safety, side effects and how it’s given; and they’re skeptical about the vaccine testing and approval process.

    While COVID-19 vaccines currently in use require two doses, the drugstore chains conducting the nursing home and assisted living vaccine clinics have planned a total of three visits for each facility.

    According to Stephanie Schauer, manager of the DHS vaccine program, some health care workers are “stepping up at that first clinic,” while others are more comfortable waiting until they see how the vaccine has affected others.

    “They just need a little bit more time,” Schauer said. “So as we move forward, we hope that more individuals at that second clinic and at that third clinic will step up if they didn’t already at the first.”

    Rick Abrams, president of the Wisconsin Health Care Association (WHCA), representing for-profit homes as well as nonprofits, said the acceptance appears to be increasing with second-round visits to nursing homes.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.