Getting the COVID-19 vaccine in Coffey County, Kansas has become nearly impossible. All four nurses in the county’s health department have reportedly refused to administer the drug to patients and staff, citing their concerns over the safety and efficacy of the drug, even though both vaccines have been approved by the FDA for emergency use.
Health officials are blaming misinformation for the ordeal. Despite the nurses’ objections, the county says it will move forward with the vaccination process.
Opting Out in Coffey County
The issue first came to light on January 4th when health department administrator Lindsay Payer told the Board of Commissioners during a virtual meeting that she and three other nurses had refused to administer the drug, saying, “My staff is not comfortable with that. It’s a new technology we’ve never seen before.”
The entire exchange is available online via YouTube.
The “technology” she was referring to was the mRNA technique used to develop the COVID-19 vaccines. However, we know that mRNA vaccines have been studied since the 1990s when disease experts and immunologists first started experimenting with this approach, but they eventually focused their studies on DNA vaccines, which were known to be more stable at the time.
Flash forward nearly thirty years later, and mRNA has become the new face of immunology. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA technology to trick the body into thinking it has been exposed to the coronavirus. The body then manufacturers antibodies that are used to fight off infection and serious illness. Both vaccines have been shown to be over 90% effective when it comes to preventing illness and 100% effective in preventing serious illness.
The FDA authorized both these drugs back in December for emergency use, but clearly some providers are still hesitant to take the drug.
Payer went on to cite misinformation as her reasons for not administering the drug, saying,
“It was only studied in 45 people before it was approved, and the companies that have made the vaccine they don’t have to…all liability is gone from them. So, if there’s anything bad about the vaccine it doesn’t go back to them. That’s widely known, and it’s somewhat discomforting to a nurse who has to put that in people’s bodies. So, we will find nurses that are willing to do that. I am not. My staff is not at this time.”
County Medical Director Dr. Jeff Sloyer quickly shot back at Payer over her refusal to administer the drug. “Both of these vaccines were very well studied,” he said. “The Pfizer one had over 40,000 people in their trial, and the Moderna one had 30,000 people in their trial, so, I think that’s good.”
In truth, Pfizer enrolled 44,000 participants in the human trial for its vaccine, while Moderna enrolled 30,000. Visit the CDC for more safety information.
Sloyer said that the incident had led to a great deal of confusion in the community over the safety of the drug, and now his department is trying to undo some of the damage.
The Kansas Department of Health and Human Services also released a statement, saying, “The data demonstrates that the known and potential benefits of this vaccine outweigh the known and potential harms of becoming infected with COVID-19.
During another meeting on January 13th, Payer and her colleagues told county health officials that they had not changed their minds. She said that it was a personal decision, not a message advocating for or against the vaccine, insisting providers should have the right to decide whether or not they want to administer the drug.
She also believes her decision will not impede the state’s response to the pandemic, adding that there are many pharmacies and clinics that have signed up to administer the drug.
“Health departments across the state are considered vaccination experts,” Payer said in the phone call with a local news outlet. “We know the length of time needed to develop a good vaccine, and the study that goes into it. We did not make this decision lightly. We made this decision using the information that we have. We want to maintain our integrity. Nurses have been known to be the most trusted profession, and we want to maintain that trust. We want the public to make the best decision for them.”
So, Who’s Going to Give Out the Shots?
County health officials say they are planning to contract outside nurses to give out the shots. They will use emergency COVID-19 relief funds to pay for the nurses.
As for Payer, she believes COVID-19 is just a part of everyday life.
“I think it’s safe to say that COVID is endemic now in our community. We know it’s here to stay. We know it can’t be controlled. It’s a virus. You can’t stop a virus. We’re still doing everything we can, but it is what it is. It’s just going to be part of what we have to deal with now. As a community, we probably need to make some decisions about what that means, and how much more resources we’re going to be putting forward on this. Knowing that it’s here, it’s like the cold or flu. It’s normal now. That’s just what it is.”
The county will move forward with its plan to vaccinate the local population. Due to potential liability concerns, patients receiving their shot will be asked to sign a waiver, thus protecting the providers on staff if anything should go wrong. Shots will be given out in the local recreational center. Patients will also be monitored for a short time after they receive the shot to make sure there are no allergic reactions. While allergic reactions are rare, providers will keep EpiPens and Benadryl on hand along with EMS.
You can contact Lindsay Payer at the Coffey County Health Department using the information below:
Departments: Health Department
Title: BSN Administrator
Phone: (620) 364-8631 ext. 1258
Fax: (620) 364-2045