Medical Groups Call for Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations for Health Care Staff

With nearly all parts of the country seeing a steady increase in COVID-19 infection, health care and medical groups are calling for mandatory vaccinations of their staff, and on Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs, New York City, and California also announced vaccine requirements for workers.

Calling it the “logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers” to put patients first, 57 medical groups Monday called for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for all staff working in health care and long-term care.

“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Pharmaceutical Association, the American Nurses Association and other groups wrote in a joint statement.

Later in the day, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that 115,000 of its health care workers would be required to get vaccinated, The New York Times reported. And New York City, which last week mandated vaccines for staff in its public health system, expanded it to all municipal workers, including police officers and teachers, while California also announced a vaccine requirement for state workers as well as health care staff.

The increasing alarm comes as the delta variant is causing cases in the United States to surge 60% this month, and even more in Southern states where vaccination rates are particularly lagging, such as Missisippi and Arkansas.

The statement noted that vaccination is already required by many organizations for influenza, hepatitis B, and pertussis, and that vaccination protects children who can't get shots and those with compromised immune systems.

The problem is particularly concerning in long-term care facilities; nationally, about 80% of nursing home residents are vaccinated, The Associated Press but just about 59% of nursing home staff are. While some in the industry are fearful that a mandate could exacerbate already-existing staffing shortages, one of the groups who signed Monday’s statement indicated in its own release that the concern is manageable.

“Providers that have required staff vaccinations have reported high vaccine acceptance by previously hesitant care professionals, and many providers report that when staff vaccination rates are high, they become providers of choice in their communities” the organization Leading Age said in a statement.

The Biden administration is reluctant to call for a vaccine mandate for nursing homes, the AP reported.

Citing interviews with virologists and epidemiologists, Reuters reported Monday that signs are increasing that the more contagious delta variant is able to infect fully vaccinated individuals at a greater rate than past versions, and concerns have been raised that the vaccinated may even spread the virus.

In Singapore and Israel, the vaccinated represent a majority of those falling ill, although in the United States, the majority of those filling up ICU beds remain unvaccinated.

Thus far, vaccine mandates have been upheld by the courts. Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas dismissed 117 workers for refusing COVID-19 vaccinations; they sued, but a federal court ruled in favor of the hospital.

Earlier this month, a health care system in New Jersey dismissed 6 supervisors for refusing to get vaccinated and said it would expand the mandate to all staff. RWJBarnabasHealth, which has 35,000 employees, gave supervisory staff until June 30 to get vaccinated or obtain an exemption or deferral. Other large health care systems in the state, Hackensack Meridian Health and Virtua Health, have also implemented mandates.

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