Though COVID-19 vaccines have become available to a high-risk group of people in the Wood River Valley, not everyone in that group is accepting the shots.
Almost all of the 28 elderly residents at Silvercreek Assisted Living in Hailey got their first dose of the vaccine on New Year’s Eve. A second “booster shot” is typically given a few weeks later. But despite their advanced priority for the long-waited vaccinations, about half of the 28 staff members at Silvercreek, whose job it is to serve these elderly residents, declined to get vaccinated.
Silvercreek Administrator Lori Eberharter said she shared Centers for Disease Control information about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine with residents and staff, but many employees still refused to get the shot. She said she thinks false information circulating the internet about potential dangers of the vaccine shaped that decision.
“People don’t know who to trust,” Eberharter said. “My preference would be that our entire staff would be vaccinated, but we can’t mandate that they do.”
Two federally approved COVID-19 vaccines are being administered in Idaho, one each from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. A vaccination team from South Central Health District arrived at Silvercreek Assisted Living at 1 p.m. Thursday and administered Moderna vaccines to all but two “very elderly” residents, Eberharter told the Mountain Express. The families of these two residents opted out of the vaccine over safety concerns about side effects, she said.
“Some people seem to think that emergency approval of the vaccine is not the same thing as regular approval,” she said. “Many of them don’t feel that they know what will happen to people once they get the vaccine, so they want to wait and see.”
Brianna Bodily, spokeswoman for the South Central Public Health District, said the CDC reported that of more than 70,000 thousand people who voluntarily received the vaccine in clinical trials, a very small percentage had any side effects beyond pain where the needle went in and some minor fever and body aches.
“These are common reactions to vaccine and signs your body is learning how to fight disease,” Bodily said. “This pandemic has been a constant battle between misinformation and scientific data. I continue to hope the latter will prevail but, frankly, stories like these make me nervous.”
Bodily said those receiving the vaccine are monitored for 15 minutes or longer for allergic reactions, which have led to hospitalizations for two people in Idaho. As of Sunday, Idahoans had received 19,569 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
“Any time you bring a new substance into your body, there is a chance you’ll have an allergic reaction,” Bodily said. “If anyone is concerned about having an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, we recommend they reach out to their medical provider for guidance.”
Seventy-five-year-old Roger Cline received his first vaccination shot Thursday at Silvercreek. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease seven years ago. His wife Carol Cline admitted him to the memory care unit at Silvercreek in September after he suffered a series of falls at their Sun Valley home.
“We did this for his safety and for my sanity,” Carol Cline said. “I can no longer leave him at home alone and during the pandemic caregivers have been scarce because they are afraid to come into our home.”
Cline said she visits her husband at least every other day. She has only been turned away from the nursing home once, after a visiting health aid spread the virus to several Silvercreek residents in October. All of them recovered, Silvercreek reported.
Cline said last week that she was glad to hear the vaccine would be given to Silvercreek’s residents and staff. She said she felt better knowing that her husband would be protected from the coronavirus, won’t pass it around to others, and won’t be quarantined to his room again.
Cline’s views changed when she heard that staff members declined the vaccine.
“I find it disconcerting that the staff are not all being vaccinated,” Cline said. “I don’t understand their reasoning. This means that there will be a higher chance of them getting the virus and passing it on to patients.”
Eberharter said she commends her staff for showing up to work through the pandemic. She said safety protocols mandated by the state of Idaho and the CDC that have been in place since the summer will remain in place at Silvercreek regardless of who is vaccinated. These protocols require that all staff and visitors wear face masks. Residents are not required to wear face masks.
Multiple requests to the Bell Mountain Village and Care Center from the Mountain Express for vaccination information have gone unanswered. One resident there, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he was told the vaccines would be available in “early January.”