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Florida family with immunocompromised son concerned about state healthcare worker vaccination rate

As of June 4, 58% of hospital staff vaccinated
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Posted at 5:47 AM, Jun 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-17 08:59:06-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Tracie Wiechmann has taken every precaution during the pandemic, especially for her adult son, Christopher.

She said though the whole family got vaccinated, they aren’t sure how much protection he has since he has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

“For him, we don’t know how protected he is, he’s in a medically fragile state,” Wiechmann said.

She said when the pandemic started, Christopher stayed home from work and they stopped visits from caregivers to reduce risk. But once he was vaccinated, they decided to see a doctor for back pain.

“We were in for a bit of a rude awakening when we went because we kind of had that assumption that healthcare providers would certainly be vaccinated and we discovered that wasn’t the case,” Wiechmann said.

Wiechmann said she learned some staff were not vaccinated and later learned a wheelchair technician and respiratory therapist who arrived for home visits weren’t either.

“I spoke to a lot of people after our experience and they were all shocked and I would say 99% of the people I talked to assumed healthcare workers were vaccinated because they had access to it before the rest of us did,” Wiechmann said. “And I just want people to know if you’re in that situation and you do have a compromised immune system — before you go anywhere, you call and you ask those questions before you go anywhere.”

According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, as of June 4, 58.2% of current hospital staff in the state have received the vaccine. The information is self-reported by health facilities.

“It’s not going very well overall pending on the location," said Jay Wolfson, a senior associate vice president at the Morsani College of Medicine. "Some large healthcare institutions have had 70-80% success in getting at least one shot some cases two, others are sometimes lower than 20%. The highest risk place appears to be long-term care facilities.”

Wolfson said mandating vaccines is a tricky issue since none of the COVID-19 vaccines have been approved beyond an emergency use authorization.

“In Florida, you cannot mandate it yet though the employment lawyers and the occupational safety health administration are indicating that you can," Wolfson said. "A very recent — just this past week — federal court in Texas for the Methodist Hospital in Houston said that the hospital may mandate that its employees get vaccinated even without the final approval by the FDA beyond the EUA. So this is a very significant decision by a federal court."

Johns Hopkins Medicine, which includes Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, announced it would require clinical and nonclinical personnel to be fully vaccinated by September.

Other hospital systems in the Tampa area are not requiring vaccinations, but encouraging it for all employees.

Daycare said it’s not requiring the vaccine but highly encourages it for team members and community members eligible to receive it.

“The Delta variant is just one more reason people should get vaccinated. To reduce risk of exposure, masks are required inside all of our hospitals and patient care areas,” a Daycare spokesperson said.

HCA Healthcare said they strongly encourage it, but don’t require it.

“While in our hospitals, our employees are masked, regardless of vaccine status. We have provided 23,900 COVID-19 vaccines to date, which includes vaccinations provided to our caregivers and the community,” an HCA spokesperson said.

AdventHealth said while the vaccine is not currently required, they strongly encourage their team members to get the COVID-19 vaccination.

A spokesperson for Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System said approximately 70% of their employees and more than 90% of their physicians and medical staff members have been vaccinated.

“We want everyone to get vaccinated, but at this time we are not mandating the shot, primarily because the vaccines are currently approved by the FDA for emergency use only. We continually monitor the data, expert guidance and regulatory changes, and like most hospitals will re-evaluate vaccination requirements in the weeks ahead, especially once the vaccines receive full FDA approval,” the spokesperson said.

In the meantime, Wiechmann is hoping to see more shots in arms and people help protect those who are vulnerable.

“Just have some compassion, if you could — wear a mask if you’re not vaccinated, just to protect other people,” she said.

According to the Florida Department of Health’s weekly COVID-19 report, 55% of Floridians are vaccinated.

A USF statewide survey showed of adults who haven’t been vaccinated more than 35% said they will "probably not" or "definitely not" get vaccinated, while nearly a quarter are still undecided.

This story was originally published by Haley Bull on Scripps station WFTS in Tampa, Florida.