A critical care nurse chokes back tears, his voice heavy, as he talks on a video about having to put a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator.
“As health care professionals, we’re Type A — we want to fix everything. And with COVID you can no longer fix everything,” said Nick Armijo, who was driving home after a tough day at Christus St. Vincent Medical Center’s COVID-19 unit.
A union is using YouTube videos of Armijo and three other medical workers sharing heart-wrenching experiences to encourage people to get vaccinated and ease the strain COVID-19 has put on hospitals — and workers.
The National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees has embarked on the campaign, urging inoculations, amid reports that some hospital workers have declined vaccines.
Officials at New Mexico’s largest hospitals said this week that up to 30 percent of employees who are in contact with infected patients have declined the vaccines.
The union, some hospitals and the Governor’s Office all say health worker vaccinations are going well overall and the percentage will improve in the coming months as people observe others having no severe side effects.
“We’re aware that some of our folks are not getting vaccinated,” said Eleanor Chavez, executive director of the union’s District 1199 in Albuquerque. “What our understanding is, some of them are waiting to see how things go. We’re actually aiming this [video campaign] at everyone.”
Union leaders haven’t tried to counsel members or provide them vaccine data that might address concerns, Chavez said. They assume workers have access to that kind of medical information at their jobs, she said.
The union represents workers at half a dozen regional hospitals, including Christus St. Vincent and University of New Mexico Hospital.
Nurses, X-ray technicians, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and housekeepers are among the union members, Chavez said.
The union has no way to track who has been vaccinated, Chavez said. But even if a quarter of members reject the vaccine, that means 75 percent are getting the shots, she said.
The union also can’t compel anyone to get vaccinated, she said.
Medical officials have said the initial vaccine deliveries are coming through an emergency federal authorization, so hospital workers can’t be required to get the shots.
Nora Meyers Sackett, spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said vaccinations began only a month ago, and the rate of rejection by health workers is lower than in some other states.
“We expect hesitancy to continue to decline over time, just as it has as vaccinations have gotten under way,” Sackett wrote in an email.
When asked whether the state might consider making it mandatory for health care workers to be inoculated after vaccines become fully licensed, Sackett said it was too soon to speculate.
“A great deal of factors will affect any potential changes, particularly as the new [presidential] administration takes office and bolsters the process,” Sackett wrote.
Representatives of three hospitals expressed confidence that precautions that have been in place since the pandemic began will safeguard patients from unvaccinated workers. Those include personnel wearing protective gear, washing hands and being checked for the virus.
All Christus St. Vincent employees, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not, are screened when they report to work, said Arturo Delgado, the hospital’s spokesman.
“In 10 months of pandemic activity, we’ve had four workplace-acquired cases of COVID-19,” Delgado said, adding that two of those were in March.
About 92 percent of the workforce at Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center has received the vaccine, according to Jon Wade, the hospital’s chief executive.
That’s considerably higher than the estimated 70 percent overall at Presbyterian Healthcare Services.
“While a safe, effective vaccine represents our best hope of moving beyond COVID-19, it does not mean that our behavior regarding precautions should change right away,” Wade wrote in an email. “This applies for those who have received the vaccine and for those who decided against it.”
Mark Rudi, spokesman for University of New Mexico Health Sciences, echoed the sentiments in an email.
“Since we know that immunity even after vaccination is not 100 percent, all staff will continue these same COVID-safe practices,” Rudi wrote.
Still, Chavez said it’s vital that everybody, including hospital workers, be vaccinated.
“We’ve seen a lot of our own health care workers come down with COVID or have to seek quarantine because of exposure,” Chavez said.