Tri-State hospitals report 'low' number of staff out sick due to COVID vaccine side effects

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Posted at 4:02 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 19:13:08-05

As more and more Tri-Staters receive one of two COVID-19 vaccinations currently available, doctors are learning more about the side effects that could accompany the dual-injection treatments. Those side effects were strong enough for a small number of vaccinated health care professionals to have to call off work in the days following their shots.

But health officials anticipated this possibility and came up with a plan.

It has become widely accepted that the first doses for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines result in some tenderness around the injection site but not much else. The Moderna vaccine's second injection, though, has developed a reputation for packing a bigger punch of COVID-like symptoms -- mainly aches and pains, fatigue, chills and fever -- for a short time after receiving the shot, while the Pfizer vaccine appears to be milder.

As WCPO has previously reported, local health officials estimate that 20% of those who received Moderna's second vaccine reported more severe side effects from the second injection than the first.

When Northern Kentucky nurse Taylor Poore got her second Moderna dose on Monday, she said she could feel the expected increase in symptoms, but they only lasted about eight hours.

"I felt like I may have been running a low-grade temp but nothing, you know, it wasn't earth-shattering to the point like I felt like I couldn't work or, you know, anything like that. [I] just felt overall fatigued and achy."

She said she felt back to normal by the next morning.

But Dr. Meghan Markovich said even a small minority of vaccine recipients having to call off work due to its side effects was enough for St. Elizabeth Hospitals -- where she holds a family practice and is assisting with the vaccine rollout -- to stagger when employees would receive their shots.

"We did offer different appointment dates for staff so that they would be a little bit staggered, knowing that you could potentially have that happen," she told WCPO.

In her office, comprised of 20 staff members, Markovich said she has had one employee call in sick due to side effects from the vaccine.

"Luckily, I think, that number has been quite low that had to stay home from work," she said.

In Southwest Ohio, while the majority of vaccines administered have been the Pfizer variety -- which appears to come with milder side effects than Moderna -- there still has been a small population of long-term health care facility workers who called out sick after their second dose, according to Peter Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association.

"We haven't heard any feedback from members about really significant reactions," Van Runkle told WCPO. "What we've heard is mainly, yeah, we've had a few people call off, or one or two usually, or none."

Van Runkle said he has seen some national recommendations for health care providers to stagger their staff vaccinations, but his organization -- which represents more than 1,000 assisted-living, hospice and long-term care facilities across the state -- suggested centers get their staff vaccinated as quickly as possible.

"Mostly for the long-term care providers, it's been the other way around, like trying to get people to do it rather than say, 'Wait a while,'" he said.

Van Runkle worries that too much hype around the vaccines' possible side effects could result in fewer people -- including health care workers -- choosing to get the vaccine when it first becomes available to them.

"Part of the concern among the staff and the things that go to them not participating have been around the side effects," he said. "The story that you shared from Moderna, that, if that spreads around, it's going to create more concerns on the part of folks because they're already afraid."