Calls for vaccine mandates in health care settings increase

JOPLIN, Mo. – Surging covid cases among those unvaccinated continue to hit Mercy Hospital hard.

“We broke a new record,” says Mercy President Jeremy Drinkwitz. “We’re discharging people and putting people right back in.”

Between their hospitals in Joplin and Carthage, Mercy has 78 COVID inpatients, the highest number they’ve had since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Two months ago we had 14 covid inpatients. June 27th we had 58. And here in July, we’re at 78. So you can see how exponentially we have grown,” says Drinkwitz.

As the more contagious delta variant continues to cause surges in cases, nearly 60 healthcare organizations call for covid vaccines to be mandatory for workers in healthcare and long-term care settings.

“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 U.S. workers, families, communities, and the nation depends on it.”

Shortly after the joint statement from organizations including the American Medical Association, and Infectious Diseases Society of America, and others, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs became the first federal agency to make vaccination a requirement, at VA hospitals and clinics.

Drinkwitz says he’s glad to see more agreeing that vaccines should be required in health care settings.

“People have said to me in the past, you know, this is an experiment. Well, we’ve given over 3.8 billion doses of the vaccine of all the times we have worldwide. So, I would think that number eliminates the experiment anymore,” says Drinkwitz. “At the end of the day what we’re asking our coworkers to do is the same thing. We want to lead by example, but we’re also doing it to keep our patients safe.”

At the beginning of July, Mercy mandated that all hospital staff be vaccinated. Drinkwitz says since the announcement several staff members have gotten the vaccine. Some others are still working through the information they need to make the decision.

“There’s a lot of bad information out there. And a lot of untrue information that people have someone held onto. And so I think our co-workers are walking through evaluating the truth versus the bad.”

KOAM also asked Freeman Health System what their stance is on mandatory vaccines. Freeman Health System President and CEO Paula Baker says in a statement:

“We are continuing to monitor the ramifications of COVID 19 throughout our Health System and the communities we serve.  Our policy remains that we are not mandating the vaccine for our employees at this time, although we are strongly encouraging our employees and the general public to get the vaccination.  I am very proud of the Freeman Team and the fact that they are choosing to receive the vaccine based on their concern for everyone around them rather than mandated compliance.  We know that nearly all new COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths occur with unvaccinated individuals. Freeman Health System is enforcing our mask wearing policy and restricted visitor guidelines for everyone’s health and well-being.  Our employees in direct healthcare wear masks as required by OSHA and CDC guidelines, which require masks whether vaccinated or not.”

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