The Dilemma: COVID-19 vaccine resentment
With the world slowly beginning to reopen, should vaccination refusal be grounds for termination?
After 15 long months, The Banks Animal Hospital finally reopened its doors. The thriving 6-doctor, small animal practice strictly enforced CDC guidelines and took additional precautions to ensure the safety of its 44 team members. Staff continued to wear masks despite it not being required for vaccinated personnel.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic brought unprecedented growth for veterinary services, causing many staff members to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition to being overworked and having to cope with curbside care, the staff was also traumatized by the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.
While it was true that curbside care did minimize exposure to pet owners, working shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow staff members without practicing social distancing only heightened anxiety. Despite wearing masks, maintaining good hygiene, and being diligent, many staff members contracted the disease.
When the vaccine became available for veterinary professionals, the staff members felt a sigh of relief. However, the staff also experienced similar roadblocks that the general public faced surrounding the vaccines and despite the CDC recommendations, a significant amount of the population chose not to be vaccinated.
At the Banks Animal hospital, 6 of the 44 staff members were among those that opted against receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. The hospital administration recommended that all staff members be vaccinated and those who expressed hesitancy were advised to consult with respected healthcare professionals.
Ultimately, 5 staff members decided not to be vaccinated. The Banks Animal Hospital administration agreed that these refusals were not grounds for termination and continued to promote and encourage vaccination participation. Unfortunately, this scenario was seen in many veterinary care facilities throughout the country.
To top it off, the hospital administration started to experience additional fall out. Several of the vaccinated staff members began to display some resentment towards those who chose not to be vaccinated. Some went to the administration to express their disapproval over the situation and felt their health was at risk. Others suggested that these staff members be temporarily laid off or furloughed until the pandemic was over or until herd immunity was reached at the workplace.
To address this growing concern, the practice owner, Dr Banks, held a general staff meeting. He explained that a refusal to be vaccinated did not warrant a highly skilled staff member losing their job. He also addressed the fact that opting against being vaccinated can not only put that individual at risk but endangers the health and well-being of their coworkers.
Banks reinforced that all mask requirements, hygiene protocols, and social distancing, (when possible) will stay effective until further notice, regardless of the new, less stringent CDC recommendations. He also advised everyone to be vaccinated and urged coworkers to have conversations amongst themselves to iron out any resentment they might have toward one another.
Although Banks felt his efforts assisted the staff, some were still experiencing resentment and anxiety. The pandemic had wreaked havoc in more ways than one. The division, anxiety, and lingering doubts would continue to be felt for years to come.
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Dr Rosenberg’s Response
Unfortunately, there are many people that have complex medical issues that do not allow them to receive vaccinations. Nevertheless, there are millions of people that have non-scientifically based reasons for not being vaccinated. May vaccinated individuals can get frustrated, angry, and aggressive. However, these emotions cannot change the reality of the situation. The nonvaxers will not disappear nor will the frustration abate. What can happen is the development of herd immunity and the slow disappearance of the pandemic. The veterinary profession must continue to advocate the importance of getting the vaccines to help protect both people and pets against horrible diseases. You can be sure that in the not-too-distant future, a pandemic of a different nature will unfold and we must hope that our scientifically-based vaccine advocacy made a difference.
Marc Rosenberg, VMD, is director of Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. Although many of the scenarios Rosenberg describes in his column are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors, and employees described are fictional.