As US vaccination rates fall and new virus case and hospitalization numbers climb, the country's leading medical organizations call for requiring any worker with patient contact to be vaccinated.
Mandates by US health care organizations that all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 have been few and far between since 3 vaccines were granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) early this year.
Many major health systems and institutions remained hesitant, according to a report in the Washington Post, because the vaccines--from Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J--are not yet fully approved by the FDA, leaving the organizations open to the threat of law suits.
One success story, cited in the Post report, could inspire confidence. Houston Methodist in March was the country's first health system to impose a coronavirus vaccination mandate. Staff protests followed, including resignation of more than 150 individuals who refused to be vaccinated. However, 97% of the Houston Methodist workforce did comply with just 2% receiving exemptions or deferrals.
A lawsuit filed by former staff members was subsequently dismissed by a federal judge who ruled that the organization was “trying to do their business of saving lives without giving [patients] the covid-19 virus,” as reported in the Post.
In recent days, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the state of California and the city of New York all have put in place requirements for vaccination against COVID-19. The VA, which runs one of the country's largest health systems, is the first federal agency to do so.
Frustrated by the slow down in US vaccine uptake, the alarming and steady rise in infection rates, and the dominance of the more infective and transmissible Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, a group of 55 medical organizations became signatories to a joint statement, issued Tuesday, July 26, 2021, urging every health facility to require workers to be vaccinated.
Organizations supporting the statement, which was organized by Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PHD, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist, include the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American College of Physicians.
The statement follows and for a full list of signing organizations, please click here.
Due to the recent COVID-19 surge and the availability of safe and effective vaccines, our health care organizations and societies advocate that all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being.
Because of highly contagious variants, including the Delta variant, and significant numbers of unvaccinated people, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again rising throughout the United States. Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures.
Unfortunately, many health care and long-term care personnel remain unvaccinated. As we move towards full FDA approval of the currently available vaccines, all health care workers should get vaccinated for their own health, and to protect their colleagues, families, residents of long-term care facilities and patients. This is especially necessary to protect those who are vulnerable, including unvaccinated children and the immunocompromised. Indeed, this is why many health care and long-term care organizations already require vaccinations for influenza, hepatitis B, and pertussis.
We call for all health care and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
We stand with the growing number of experts and institutions that support the requirement for universal vaccination of health workers. While we recognize some workers cannot be vaccinated because of identified medical reasons and should be exempted from a mandate, they constitute a small minority of all workers. Employers should consider any applicable state laws on a case-by-case basis.
Existing COVID-19 vaccine mandates have proven effective. Simultaneously, we recognize the historical mistrust of health care institutions, including among many in our own health care workforce. We must continue to address workers’ concerns, engage with marginalized populations, and work with trusted messengers to improve vaccine acceptance.
As the health care community leads the way in requiring vaccines for our employees, we hope all other employers across the country will follow our lead and implement effective policies to encourage vaccination. The health and safety of US workers, families, communities, and the nation depends on it.