The death of a nurse and health workers who do not get vaccinated

Olivia Guidry was a 24-year-old nurse at Ochsner Lafayette General Hospital who dreamed of becoming a doctor. She died earlier this month, after testing positive for COVID-19.

Guidry’s story went viral on social media. Hospital officials have not confirmed whether COVID-19 contributed to his death, although they said an autopsy would be performed. But his case has nonetheless become a wake-up call and a microcosm of this preventable new wave of the pandemic in the United States.

In news reports and on Twitter, what is repeated over and over again is that Guidry, an emergency room nurse, is said to have tweeted conspiracies about vaccines that prevent COVID-19. And then maybe she died.

The United States has what it needs to end the pandemic here – vaccines. Yet many still haven’t caught on. In Louisiana, only half of adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

As the Delta variant rises statewide and hospitalizations from COVID-19 increase, public health officials are increasingly concerned about one trend in particular: low vaccination rates among agents health.

“This certainly highlights the concerns we share in this profession, especially vulnerable people, who come in contact with patients and are not vaccinated,” said Ecoee Rooney, president of the Louisiana State Nurses Association.

Rooney didn’t know Guidry, but she does know some nurses who aren’t vaccinated. The organization is so concerned about the low immunization rates among nurses that it recently passed a resolution making increasing immunizations a top priority for the next few years.

As hospitalizations increase, Rooney is particularly concerned about nurses in intensive care units.

“They’ve been through three different and distinct waves of this virus and are really battling things like anxiety and depression,” she said.

COVID-19-related hospitalizations have nearly tripled in Louisiana since early July, from just over 250 people to over 700. Cases are increasing exponentially. In New Orleans, the most vaccinated place in the state, cases have increased nine-fold in two weeks.

The vast majority, over 90 percent, are among the unvaccinated.

“People feel angry when people aren’t wearing masks, people feel angry when people aren’t vaccinated,” Rooney said. “They think it’s just a very passive response to something that we really have the technology to process and control.”

Only six in ten healthcare workers are vaccinated

Louisiana does not track vaccination rates for healthcare workers. But hospital systems report the rate is lower than the national average for adults.

Ochsner Health, the state’s largest healthcare system, said about 61% of staff are vaccinated against COVID-19. The Franciscan Missionaries of the Health System of Notre-Dame reported the same figure.

And among nursing home staff in Louisiana, it’s even lower. Only 47 percent have started or completed their immunization series, compared to 85 percent of residents.

Nationally, only 52% of frontline health workers were vaccinated by the end of March, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post.

These figures contrast sharply with the rate among physicians. In the United States, more than 96 percent of physicians are vaccinated, according to a survey by the American Medical Association. The survey found that these rates have not declined among physicians in the South.

What made Guidry’s death such a flashpoint was the appearance that she chose to believe in myths about COVID-19 vaccines rather than science – leading to the presumption that she was not vaccinated – and the opinion that nurses, trained in medicine, should know better.

Louisiana public health officer Dr Joseph Kanter said he was surprised by the low vaccination rates of frontline health workers, those who have seen in detail how devastating COVID can be.

“It pains me to think that they are staying on the front lines, but haven’t had that protection,” Kanter said. “They are very vulnerable. And that doesn’t easily suit me.

The health department has recorded cases of outbreaks at health facilities other than nursing homes, Kanter said, and they have often occurred between staff, as they spend time together at work or in the break room.

Kanter works with nurses as an emergency physician for LCMC Health in New Orleans, some of whom are unvaccinated.

“Some have fallen victim to the same myths and untruths that exist in the community at large,” he said. “And I think we’re all doing our best to overcome that. And sometimes it is successful. Sometimes this is not the case.

Conspiracy theories, geography and politics

In tweets attributed to Guidry, she writes that vaccines were designed to control people and alter their DNA.

The first is a pure conspiracy, the second a serious misunderstanding about how the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines work. The two vaccines, called mRNA vaccines, send instructions to cells to produce a protein that stimulates the production of antibodies against the coronavirus. They do not alter a person’s DNA.

Another myth widely spread on social media is that vaccines have an impact on a woman’s fertility – also completely debunked. The vaccines are considered safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on what it calls the “limited” data currently available.

COVID-19 can be particularly dangerous during pregnancy. During a press conference with the governor last week, Dr. Catherine O’Neal, an infectious disease specialist at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, notably pleaded for pregnant women to be admitted to his hospital with COVID -19.

“Our pregnant mothers are in danger. We see them admitted. We see them broken down and we see the loss of their children, ”O’Neal said.

Dr. Veronica Gillispie-Bell, an obstetrician-gynecologist who works for the Louisiana Department of Health on fetal and maternal health, said she had heard the fertility myth often, including nurses who told her that was the reason they wouldn’t get the shot.

Kanter and Rooney both said the same geographic disparities in vaccination rates appear to apply to healthcare workers, meaning a nurse in New Orleans would be more likely to be vaccinated than a nurse. in Lafayette, where only 41% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times analysis.

There is also a strong correlation between political views and vaccination rates – with those on the right in the extreme. more likely to be wary of vaccines.

Katner believes immunization rates among nurses and the general population will continue to rise.

“I just hope it’s not too late,” he said.

The Louisiana State Nurses Association is partnering with the state health department to survey nurses and get their perspective on vaccines.

In the meantime, Rooney, the president of the association, told me that she was thinking of her friends and colleagues forced to work during a statewide and nationwide nursing shortage, people who feel morally responsible for trying to save lives that cannot all be saved.

“Nurses are the ones who hold people’s hands or hold them, you know, putting their arms around them as they go by. It’s too much. It is too heavy an emotional, spiritual and mental burden on our healthcare professionals, ”she said.

“And to see it happen again,” she added, “is devastating.”

Some Louisiana hospitals are now restricting visitors, as they did when the pandemic was at its peak.

Again, perhaps these are nurses being asked to watch people die – only this time, there will have been something that, for most patients, could have saved them.

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