More hospitals mandate COVID-19 vaccination for employees
The first hospital system in the country to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for employees said this week that it had suspended nearly 180 personnel without pay for not getting vaccinated.
Houston Methodist President and CEO Marc L. Boom MD, said in an internal email that nearly all of the system’s more than 25,000 employees had been vaccinated — the first system in the United States to reach nearly 100% compliance.
However, Bloom said 178 workers who had not been granted an exemption or deferral were not fully vaccinated by the June 8 deadline, including 27 who had received one dose of a two-dose vaccine. Those employees were suspended without pay for 2 weeks.
“We won’t have the final numbers for 2 weeks as employees can still get vaccinated with their second dose or with the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Boom wrote in the email, which was obtained by Healio. “I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first.”
“The science proves that the vaccines are not only safe, but necessary if we are going to turn the corner against COVID-19,” Boom wrote.
The suspensions came as health systems around the country continued to announce COVID-19 vaccine mandates for their employees. These include Penn Medicine, Johns Hopkins and the District of Columbia hospitals and health systems, which said its facilities will mandate vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.
Infectious Disease News Editorial Board Member Peter Chin-Hong, MD, said vaccines are not mandated at his institution, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), but that employees must accept or decline vaccination by June 30 and document that they have received information about the vaccines.
“By July 15, UCSF and other University of California campuses will require all faculty, staff, trainees and students who access campus facilities at any University of California location to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but would allow for individual exemptions,” Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine and director of UCSF’s transplant infectious disease program, told Healio
Chin-Hong said he supports the decision of Houston Methodist to suspend its workers for not complying with the vaccine mandate, citing the benefits associated with vaccination — especially in the health care setting, where vaccination has an “outsized” importance because of the “many vulnerable patients who may not be fully protected even if they were vaccinated, making them susceptible to infection.”
The Infectious Diseases Society of America also supports mandatory immunization for health care personnel, calling it “an essential component for infection prevention and control.”
“In health care, it is not only important to be vaccinated for individual benefit, but also for community benefit,” Chin-Hong said. “There are many procedures that are performed that potentially increase the transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2. Given the risk of disease transmission in the health care setting, unvaccinated employees may also bring home virus to their family and loved ones.”
He likened it to facilities requiring health care workers to be vaccinated against influenza.
“Making a vaccine mandatory in the workplace does not mean that everyone is forced to take one. Religious and disability exemptions are still allowed,” Chin-Hong said. “In fact, more than 600 employees at Houston Methodist were granted these.”
According to Chin-Hong, there is legal precedent to requiring employees to be immunized: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that employers are permitted to make vaccines mandatory.
Some of the hesitancy among workers, Chin-Hong said, is due in part to the vaccines not having full FDA approval. However, he noted that the vaccines have been widely used, have 6-month efficacy and safety data, and that potential adverse effects have been analyzed “and even overreported.”
“There will be no surprises as these get reviewed,” Chin-Hong said. “This is a very different context from other cases of drugs getting full FDA approval.”
DCHA. District of Columbia Hospitals Call for Employees to Be Vaccinated Against COVID-19. https://www.dcha.org/blogs/jennifer-hirt/2021/06/09/district-of-columbia-hospitals-call-for-employees. Accessed June 11, 2021.
HUB. Johns Hopkins announces COVID-19 vaccine mandate for faculty, staff. https://hub.jhu.edu/2021/06/09/vaccines-mandatory-for-hopkins-faculty-staff/. Accessed June 11, 2021.
Penn Medicine. Penn Medicine to Require All Health System Employees to Receive COVID-19 Vaccine. https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2021/may/penn-medicine-to-require-all-health-system-employees-to-receive-covid19-vaccine. Accessed June 11, 2021.