Many Minnesota nursing home workers still refusing COVID-19 shots

Dustin Lee could barely contain his anger as he recalled how an unvaccinated health care worker nearly set off a COVID-19 outbreak at a senior home operated by his company in central Minnesota.

Lee, president and CEO of Prairie Senior Cottages, said the worker, employed by an outside hospice agency, provided care to four residents over an eight-hour shift without ever informing them that she had declined to be vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus. Days later, Lee learned that the unvaccinated worker was infected, forcing the facility to shut its doors to family visitors and begin testing all its residents and staff.

“My blood is boiling,” said Lee, his voice trembling. “We have worked so hard for so long to protect our residents … and right now we have mothers who may not be able to see their loved ones on Mother’s Day. Folks need to get the shots.”

Four months after vaccines became available, senior care communities across Minnesota continue to face a daunting challenge: how to persuade front-line workers to overcome their fears and embrace the lifesaving shots.

A large percentage of nursing home and assisted-living workers continue to refuse the vaccines, posing a major challenge to the state’s efforts to prevent further virus surges in facilities that care for the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Their wariness is fueled by a wide array of concerns, including fears of long-term side effects, particularly among women of childbearing age; doubts about the vaccine’s efficacy; distrust in the medical system, and perceived immunity among workers who have recovered from COVID-19, according to facility administrators and industry representatives.