More than 40% of Iowa Veterans Home workers are refusing COVID-19 vaccine

By: - January 26, 2021 12:29 pm

Iowa’s effort to increase vaccinations for COVID-19 appears to have stalled, with 51% of the population fully vaccinated. (Photo by Javier Zayas Photography/Getty Images)

The leader of the Iowa Veterans Home says that despite participating in “educational seminars” on the COVID-19 vaccine, more than 40% of the nursing facility’s workers are still refusing the vaccine.

Many of the workers at the state-run facility are state-licensed or state-certified health care providers tasked with caring for an elderly population for whom the coronavirus is particularly dangerous. According to state and federal data, 1,866 of the  the 4,492 Iowans who have died of coronavirus — that’s 42% of the total — were residents of nursing homes like the Iowa Veterans Home.

So far, 21 of the home’s 415 residents have contracted the coronavirus and five of them have died. Vaccines were first offered at the Marshalltown home the week of Jan. 10.

“Our first vaccine clinic had 93% of our residents saying ‘yes’ to receiving the vaccine, and 54% of our staff,” Commandant Timon Oujiri said. The home has been conducting educational seminars for workers on all three shifts, he added, with the goal of informing all of the workers about “the positive aspects” of receiving the vaccine.

“We have encouraged all staff to receive the vaccine and to speak with their individual medical provider,” he said.  “We again last week and this week are offering education and encouraging all staff to attend and ask questions.”

Oujiri said he is “proud to say more staff have said yes” to the vaccine, with an additional 4% of the staff now expected to get their first shot early next month when Walgreens representatives come to the home to provide the second dose for those who initially agreed to take the vaccine. That would bring staff acceptance of the vaccine to 58%, he said.

“We have enjoyed a wonderful partnership with Walgreens,” Oujiri said, adding  there has “never been shortage of the doses of the Pfizer vaccine through Walgreens” and the company has filled 100% of the home’s requests for the vaccine.

At a Dec. 22 press conference, Oujiri said the home’s COVID-19 unit had been staffed by volunteers, adding that some of the home’s residents likened the unit to “a five-star hotel.” He noted that at one time, 120 of home’s workers “were off work due to (coronavirus) exposures outside of our doors.”

The American Legion of Iowa reported in its Jan. 16 newsletter that only 444 of the state-run home’s 904 workers received their first shot in the two-dose series when vaccinations were first given at the home.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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