Florida healthcare industry grapples with how to reach unvaccinated workers

Florida’s doctors and nurses have seen firsthand what happens when COVID-19 takes over, but not all of the state’s healthcare workers are vaccinated

Hospitals in Tampa Bay said doctors are trying to reach the public about vaccines, but also – their own co-workers. 

The Florida Medical Association is recommending that all healthcare practitioners and medical support staff get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Members of the state’s largest physicians association approved a resolution recommending that healthcare workers be vaccinated and wear masks as the numbers of COVID-19 infections in the state skyrocket. Florida reported 21,683 new infections on Friday, the largest amount since Jan. 2, when the state reported 30,531 cases. 

The January tally, though, included two days of cases because Florida didn’t report data on Jan. 1. 

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The Florida Medical Association resolution, approved during a weekend meeting, directed the group’s staff to "publish a statement … recommending that all healthcare practitioners and medical support staff receive the COVID-19 vaccine and utilize harm reduction techniques, such as the wearing of masks, for the safety, protection, and well-being of our communities." 

Many hospitals across the country report how many workers are vaccinated to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Looking at some of Tampa Bay’s hospitals according to the federal data last gathered on July 9, Lakeland Regional Hospital had roughly 2,500 people vaccinated out of about 5,400-plus workers. Monday, AdventHealth West Florida told fox13 about half of its 13,000 workers got the shot. Sarasota Memorial Hospital said 90 percent of doctors and 68 percent of staff are vaccinated as of last Friday.

"We’re trying to do one-on-one education with people in our own hospital that aren’t vaccinated. What’s the reason they’re not vaccinated? Education is the best we can do. Are they myths or is it reality?" said Dr. James Fiorica, the chief medical officer at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Fiorica described how bad it can get without a dose.

"There’s no question that when you go through our ICU and you see those patients in there, I think they would have wished they could have reversed time a little bit," said Fiorica.

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Some hospitals like Johns Hopkins All Children’s hospital are requiring the vaccine, but many Tampa Bay hospitals are not. So doctors said they’ll go with encouragement instead of a mandate.

"We haven’t made a decision, and we may reevaluate that. But right now we’re trying to go into those individuals' values and respect that but at the same time educate," said Fiorica.

The FMA did not go as far as the American Medical Association, which has backed requiring all healthcare and long-term care staff members to be vaccinated and to wear masks to prevent the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus.