Hospital CEOs Say They Expect Skeptical Employees Will Want Covid Vaccine When They See Co-Workers Getting It

Marco Bello | Reuters
  • Hospital CEOs expressed confidence Thursday that the hesitancy among some employees around Covid-19 vaccinations will fade over time.
  • "I believe as they get educated, they'll take it," Will Ferniany, CEO of Alabama's UAB Health System, told CNBC.
  • For others, the arrival of the vaccine was greeted with "so much relief and so much hope," said Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist in Texas.

Some health-care workers are hesitant to receive coronavirus vaccinations, but hospital CEOs told CNBC on Thursday they expect attitudes to shift after a larger percentage of employees are immunized.

"I think shortly everybody will want to take it," Will Ferniany, CEO of UAB Health System in Alabama, said on "Squawk on the Street." "About 60% are anxious to take it and want to know as soon as they can take it," he said, referencing an employee survey. "Twenty percent want to take it but are cautious, and 20% are very skeptical about taking it."

UAB Hospital was set to begin offering shots to health-care workers Thursday after it received 10,725 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier in the week. The first vaccinations in the U.S. outside of clinical trials took place Monday, just days after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization.

Ferniany said the hesitancy among some employees to take the vaccine was not surprising. "But I believe as they see what happens with their friends and as this rolls out — and the vaccine has been rolling out very smoothly in Alabama — I think that most everybody" will want to receive the shots, he said.

The multiple-hospital system, which is based in Birmingham, Alabama, cannot make the Covid-19 vaccination mandatory because the vaccine has received regulatory clearance only on an emergency basis, Ferniany said. He said employees are required to be vaccinated against the seasonal flu, however. Last year about 52% of Americans who were at least six months old received the flu vaccine.

"But we have given considerable amount of information to our staff, FAQs, Zoom forums for everybody. I believe as they get educated, they'll take it," Ferniany said of the Covid vaccine.

Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist in Texas, told CNBC that more than 11,000 of its employees have signed up to take the vaccine. "There's a large percentage of our population that are running towards this," he said, adding that it brings comfort to health-care workers who have experienced the devastation of the pandemic up close. "There was so much relief and so much hope by the vaccine arriving," he said on "Squawk on the Street."

However, Boom said, "there's a whole other group that's taking a wait-and-see attitude" at the eight-hospital system, which is also part of the sprawling Texas Medical Center.

Like Ferniany, Boom said that additional education and the experience of other employees should help more workers be comfortable receiving the new vaccine. "We've mandated flu vaccine for over 15 years and always get to full vaccination with that. We'll get there eventually with this" even if it takes a little time, Boom said.

The rollout of the Covid vaccine this week comes at a critical moment in the U.S. coronavirus epidemic. The nation's seven-day average of new infections is at an all-time high of 215,729, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Daily deaths also are at a record, 2,570, based on a seven-day average.

In Texas, where hospitalizations have held steady over the past week, Boom said more rural parts of the state are being hit harder now compared with the surge experienced earlier this summer.

Hospitalizations for Covid patients in Alabama are at a record high, according to the COVID Tracking Project, which is run by journalists at The Atlantic. While Ferniany complimented the state's governor, Republican Kay Ivey, for extending its mask mandate, he said coronavirus cases are rising "rapidly." "Some of our rural hospitals that we manage, almost 50% of their hospital is now with Covid patients," Ferniany said.

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