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Medical Leaders Say Vaccine Confidence Increasing Among Oklahoma Health Care Workers

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Pool photo by Mike Simons / Tulsa World
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A health care worker prepares a dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on the first day of vaccinations administered to health care providers by the Tulsa Health Department on Dec. 15.

As more and more Oklahoma health care workers receive the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the state this week, medical leaders say providers' confidence in their safety is increasing.

LaWanna Halstead, vice president for quality and clinical initiatives at the Oklahoma Hospital Association, said on a weekly Zoom press conference organized by the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition on Tuesday that somewhere between 30% and 45% of eligible hospital staff are currently scheduling their shots, up from around 24% who said they'd be eager to receive the vaccine six or eight weeks ago.

"The effect was because they did not know about the [phase three] trials," Halstead said. "Since that's come out, it has really boosted people's confidence. I think that health care workers being, basically, scientific people can see that this is a safe vaccine, and that they are confident that these multi-thousands of people who have been tested have had such a great result."

Halstead said that number is likely to climb higher still, with Dr. Don Wilber, advocate for childhood vaccinations and past president of the Oklahoma County Medical Society, saying he had read this week the number had increased to 60%.

"We feel good that it's even at that percent today, and we feel like over time, as more and more people get the vaccine and do well with it, and as we can possibly move into society, that even more people will get it," Halstead said.

In response to a reporter's question about whether hospitals could require staff receive the vaccine, Halstead said there were limitations.

"I've heard that because it's an EUA [emergency use authorization] and it's not gone through the full FDA approval that we can't require employees, because you really can't get a full informed consent on an EUA medication, biologic or drug," Halstead said. "And in talking with hospitals, they're not talking about having it required."

Dr. Jean Hausheer, former president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association and leader of the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition COVID-19 task force, said the vaccine will help providers personally and professionally.

"We need to stay afloat -- mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally -- and this vaccine will help us very much in terms of staying well to be able to handle our patient loads at this juncture," Hausheer said.

Dr. Jason Benn, an emergency medicine specialist at INTEGRIS Southwest Medical Center in Oklahoma City, agreed.

"I've had multiple colleagues go down. I've had two in the hospital recently. Both of them were fairly sick. They've both recovered, thank goodness, but as we go down, we're not there to take care of people, obviously," Benn said. "So it's important that health care workers get the vaccine so they stay safe and can take care of people who are continuing to get [COVID-19]."

Frontline health care workers are at the front of the line as doses of vaccine become available in Oklahoma, with long-term care facility residents and staff behind them, followed by broader tiers before the vaccine is expected to become available to the general public sometime in 2021.

A nurse at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center was the first person in Oklahoma to receive the vaccine on Monday, with health care providers in Tulsa and at the Cherokee Nation receiving vaccinations on Tuesday.

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