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Nurse, wife of Harnett’s 1st COVID patient has message for vax-resistant colleagues

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By Joel Brown

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    HARNETT COUNTY, North Carolina (WTVD) — As North Carolina’s COVID-19 case rate surges again, more and more local hospitals are mandating vaccinations for workers. On Wednesday, the state health department issued its own vaccine mandate. And all of it is forcing some tough conversation among healthcare workers including a Harnett County nurse who had COVID hit very close to home.

There is a share of healthcare workers, including nurses, who feel it’s unfair to be forced to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Toni Hensley is not one of them. She is a nurse and also a wife. Her husband was the first confirmed case of COVID in Harnett County. In pandemic time, it seems like a lifetime ago. But it’s only been 16 months since Hensley’s husband, Jeff, tested positive and was soon hospitalized.

“He was healthy. He doesn’t take any prescriptions. And he was very ill,” Hensley said.

After three days in the intensive care unit, Jeff made a full recovery. He’s healthy again. He’s working again. In fact, he’s traveling tonight for his job.

“He’s doing good. He’s doing wonderful. And we have not had any breakthrough infections. He hasn’t had any,” Hensley said. “We’re both fully vaccinated.”

Wednesday, the state health department announced it will require all workers at its 14 state-run health care centers to be fully vaccinated by the end of September. Last week, hospital workers at Duke, UNC and WakeMed hospitals were also given vaccine mandates.

There is pushback from some healthcare workers. And back in Harnett County where the vaccination rate is lagging at just 30% tonight, Toni Hensley is hearing resistance on her job as a nurse at Cape Fear Valley Health.

“We’ve had heated conversations about the vaccine,” she said. “Sometimes it’s logical. Most of the time it’s just them saying, ‘It’s your right.'” “If somebody like Duke, UNC, the government, I’ve heard the military might make it mandatory. If you want to work there, get the vaccine. If you don’t want to work there, don’t get the vaccine.”

The same vaccine mandate debate is happening right now in the nation’s capital.

“The (mandates) in our view are meant to keep patients and employees safe and, in fact, I expect our own federal health care providers may look at similar requirements,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this week.

“I agree with the vaccine. I think it’s a small price,” said Hensley. “If we can save lives by getting a vaccination, why would you not take it?”

As all of our major Triangle hospitals move forward with vaccine mandates, Cape Fear Valley Health is holding off right now. Instead, the health system holding is listening sessions this week to hear the concerns of those who still haven’t gotten the shot.

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