By BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Just weeks before a COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be made available to U.S. medical workers and first responders, a firefighters’ union internal survey taken by members of the country’s largest fire department shows that more than 50% say they would not take it, mirroring what appears to be a nationwide hesitancy to get the shot.
The Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) survey of 2,000 members of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) showed that 55% of participants said they would not bother to get inoculated.
Andrew Ansbro, president of the UFA, said the results of the survey are concerning in light of 200 members of the fire department currently being out sick with coronavirus.
“As a union, we are encouraging our members to get the vaccine, but we are defending that right to make that choice,” Ansbro said at a news conference Sunday.
The FDNY has a total of nearly 11,000 uniformed employees, and Anbro said the survey results are likely indicative of the overall attitude among members of the department.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, emphasized the importance of convincing the majority of the U.S. population to get the vaccination during a COVID-19 press briefing with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday.
“When you have 75% to 80% of the people vaccinated, you have an umbrella of protection over the community, that the level of community spread will be really, really very low. The virus will not have any place to go,” Fauci, who has been tapped to be President-elect Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said. “If 50% of the people get vaccinated, then we don’t have that umbrella of immunity over us.”
Ansbro said the reluctance among FDNY members to get the vaccine is generally fueled by a lack of information.
“The reasons for that are probably the same reasons everyone else doesn’t want it: It is a new vaccine, they don’t have enough information,” Ansbro said.
Two vaccines are within weeks of being released — one by Pfizer and the other by Moderna. The pharmaceutical giants have requested emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to begin distributing the vaccines.
The FDA is set to review Pfizer’s request on Thursday and Moderna’s on Dec. 17. Both companies have announced vaccine efficacy rates of more than 90%.
The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed has said there will be “shots in arms” within 24 hours of authorization.
Ansbro said the union plans to launch a program to educate fire department members on the vaccine in hopes of making them less reluctant to take it.
“That is going to be the hurdle the department and the union is going to have to overcome,” Ansbro said.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro and FDNY Chief of Department John Sudnik issued an internal order last month that said the vaccination will not be mandatory to firefighters and emergency medical service workers, though it recommended that employees consider “the overall benefits” of getting vaccinated.
The results of the FDNY survey are similar to recent nationwide polls. A Gallup Panel survey, which was conducted in late October before Pfizer and Moderna released results about the likely effectiveness of their vaccines, found that 58% of Americans would be willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine, a decrease from July, when 66% said they would.
Medical experts say the results of the surveys are similar to how people feel about getting the flu vaccine, with about 50% of the population not bothering to get the influenza shot.
Gen. Gus Perna, who is leading Operation Warp Speed, said in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview last month that the one thing that keeps him up at night is the possibility that “we get vaccines to the American people, and they don’t take them.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced a new strategy to “educate and promote vaccination,” a CDC spokesperson told ABC News. In the vein of “I Voted” stickers, the agency plans to give health providers a template for buttons and stickers people can wear to declare they have been “vaccinated for COVID-19.”
The resistance to taking the vaccine comes as a second wave of the virus has again pushed hospitals across the country to the brink of capacity.
For the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the United States is reporting an average of nearly 2,200 deaths from the disease per day, according to an ABC News analysis of data collected and published by the COVID Tracking Project.
The national seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths per day is currently 2,171. That figure has increased by 139% in the past month.
Last week, there were nearly 15,000 fatalities from the disease recorded nationwide, including five days where the daily death toll surpassed the 2,000 mark. That’s roughly equivalent to over 80 COVID-19 deaths reported each hour.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has reported over 100,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day for more than a month straight, including three consecutive days where the daily count topped 200,000.
In an interview Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged Americans to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously and encouraged them to take the vaccine when it becomes available.
“It’s a way that we can ultimately end this pandemic, but it doesn’t matter if people won’t get the vaccination,” Adams said.
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