Hospital bosses see skeptical staff who ultimately take it

Some health care workers are reluctant to get the coronavirus vaccination, but the hospital’s CEOs told CNBC on Thursday that attitudes will change after a larger percentage of employees are vaccinated.

“I think everyone will want to attend soon,” Will Ferniany, CEO of UAB Alabama Health System, told Squawk on the Street. “About 60% are eager to take it and want to know as soon as they can,” he said, referring to a staff survey. “Twenty percent want to take it, but are careful, and 20 percent are very skeptical about it.”

UAB hospital was due to offer shots to health care workers starting Thursday after receiving 10,725 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine earlier this week. The first vaccinations in the U.S. outside of clinical trials came on Monday, just days after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency approval.

Ferniany said some employees’ reluctance to take the vaccine was not surprising. “But I think when you see what happens to your friends and when this comes out – and the vaccine has been introduced very smoothly in Alabama – I think almost everyone wants to get the footage,” he said.

The multi-hospital system in Birmingham, Alabama, cannot make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory because the vaccine has only received government approval in an emergency, Ferniany said. However, he said employees need to be vaccinated against the seasonal flu. Last year, about 52% of Americans who were six months or older got the flu vaccine.

“But we’ve given our staff a considerable amount of information, FAQs, and Zoom forums for everyone. I believe if they get training they will,” Ferniany said of the Covid vaccine.

Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist in Texas, told CNBC that more than 11,000 of its employees have signed up for the vaccination. “There’s a large percentage of our population headed for it,” he said, adding that it brings comfort to health workers who have witnessed the ravages of the pandemic up close. “There was so much relief and so much hope from the vaccine,” he said on Squawk on the Street.

However, Boom said, “There’s an entirely different group that is waiting” in the eight-hospital system that is also part of the sprawling Texas Medical Center.

As Ferniany said, Boom said that additional training and experience from other employees should help more workers get the new vaccine comfortably. “We’ve been mandating a flu vaccine for over 15 years, so we always get a full shot. We’ll get there at some point,” even if it takes a while, Boom said.

The Covid vaccine launch this week comes at a critical time in the U.S. coronavirus epidemic. The seven-day average of new infections in the US is at an all-time high of 215,729, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Daily deaths are also at a record 2,570, based on a seven-day average.

In Texas, where hospital stays have stabilized over the past week, more rural parts of the state are now harder hit than they were earlier this summer, according to Boom.

Hospital stays for Covid patients in Alabama are at a record high, according to the COVID Tracking Project run by journalists in the Atlantic. While complimenting the state governor, Republican Kay Ivey, for extending his mask mandate, Ferniany said coronavirus cases are increasing “rapidly”. “Some of our rural hospitals that we manage, nearly 50% of their hospital are now with Covid patients,” Ferniany said.

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