Coffey County Health Department nurses decline to give the COVID vaccine

Nurses at Coffey County Health Department decline to administer COVID-19 vaccine.
Nurses at Coffey County Health Department decline to administer COVID-19 vaccine.(Pexels / Coffey Co. Health Dept.)
Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 5:32 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Coffey County Health Department is preparing to help distribute the COVID-19 vaccine ahead of the end of this month for Phase 2 of the state’s plan; however, none of their 4 nurses will actually be administering it.

In a call with 13 News Wednesday (Jan. 13), health department administrator Lindsay Payer says that neither she nor her staff “feel comfortable” giving the vaccine. Instead, the county health department will contract with at least one outside nurse to give the vaccine and possibly other providers. They will use COVID funds to cover it. Payer says these are personal decisions made individually and not without considerable thought.

“I will tell you we will have to contract staff outside of our staff to give that vaccine because my staff is not comfortable with that,” Payer told commissioners at their January 4th meeting. “It’s a new technology. We’ve never seen it before. 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.”

However, it’s clear that the county’s medical officer, Dr. Jeff Sloyer, does not share the health department staff’s concerns. At this past Monday’s county commission meeting (Jan. 11), he told commissioners:

“Both of these vaccines were very well studied,” Solyer assured commissioners. “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.” Sloyer told commissioners that the January 6th meeting generated a great deal of confusion and response on social media.

As of January 8th, Coffey County’s weekly update had 27 active COVID cases--12 new cases and 16 recoveries.

In a phone call Wednesday morning (Jan 13.), Payer told 13 News that this is a personal decision on each staff members’ part and is not meant to send any message--for or against getting the vaccine. She insists that they do not want to be a barrier to anyone getting the vaccine and are moving forward with putting a plan in place to ensure that all Coffey County residents who want to be vaccinated during Phase 2 can be. Members of the public age 65 and older will eventually be able to get the COVID vaccine, likely toward the end of this month. The health department has started a waiting list--one that as of Monday’s commission meeting had grown to over 200 people in just a few short days. Payer says that they have spoken with the Coffey Health System which indicates they may be willing to provide assistance to the health department to give the vaccine. Additionally, Payer says that like the county health department, local pharmacies have also applied to KDHE to give the vaccine. She believes there will no shortage of places or opportunities for Coffey County residents to get the vaccine.

Payer points out that it is not uncommon for county health departments to contract with outside providers for services such as vaccinations. She told 13 News that this is “not new, not unexpected” and their “choice as licensed professionals” to decide whether or not they want to administer a vaccine.

“Health departments across the state are considered vaccination experts,” Payer said in the phone call with 13 News. “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.”

This past Monday, Dr. Sloyer told commissioners that the health department has been working very hard on the public vaccination plan. They have submitted their application to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to receive the COVID vaccine and are maintaining a sign-up list for residents. Additionally, because of potential liability concerns, the health department will require those receiving the vaccine to sign a waiver. Dr. Solyer told commissioners that they will be receiving the Moderna vaccine. Because patients must be monitored for a short time after the vaccine, Coffey County will set up to give their public vaccinations at the rec center. While he notes that reactions to the vaccine have been very rare, they will have Epipens and Benadryl on hand along with EMS.

At last week’s meeting (Jan. 4), Payer told commissioners that COVID is now part of our everyday lives--comparing it to the cold and flu.

“I think it’s safe to say that COVID is endemic now in our community,” Payer said. “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 Kansas Department of Health and Environment sent 13 News this statement:

  • Safety is incorporated into every level of vaccine development. Clinical trials are an important part of determining vaccine safety and effectiveness, generating scientific data for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review and base their recommendations on. Thousands participated in the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials. The data demonstrate that the known and potential benefits of this vaccine outweigh the known and potential harms of becoming infected with COVID-19. After a vaccine is approved for use, many vaccine safety monitoring systems watch for possible side effects. This continued monitoring can pick up on adverse events that may not have been seen in clinical trials. If an unexpected adverse event is seen, experts quickly study it further to assess whether it is a true safety concern that requires a change in recommendations. This monitoring is critical to help ensure that the benefits continue to outweigh the risks for people who receive vaccines.
  • We would encourage people who have concerns to visit our website, or the CDC reference vaccines. There is a lot of good, science-based information on these sites.
  • No, they [the nurses] don’t have liability.

We have contacted Coffey County medical officer Dr. Jeff Sloyer and the county commission’s administrative assistant for comment on behalf of the county.

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