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Hospitals across U.S. are requiring workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19

Falling COVID vaccine rates put Biden's July goal at risk
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Hundreds of thousands of medical workers across the U.S. are being told they must get vaccinated against COVID-19 to stay employed, with New York-Presbyterian — one of the country's largest hospital systems — the latest to announce the move.

New York-Presbyterian on Friday said its more than 48,000 employees and affiliated physicians need to be immunized against the coronavirus by September 1 as a condition of employment. Leaders of the medical system — 10 hospital campuses and more than 200 clinics — cast the new mandate as part of its mission of protecting patients. 

"We care for sick people – some critically so – every day, and we are responsible for their safety while in our care. The stakes in this matter are high, and the evidence is clear that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the most important and responsible action we can take as NYP team members for the safety and well-being of our patients and visitors, our communities, and ourselves," Drs. Steven J. Corwin and Laura L. Forese, its CEO and COO, respectively, wrote in a memo. 

The scenario is well underway in Texas, where nearly 200 hospital workers have been suspended without pay by Houston Methodist, the first hospital system in the nation to require the shots. Houston Methodist — a major medical center and six community hospitals — said nearly 25,000 of its workers were fully immunized against the coronavirus by Monday's deadline.

While Houston Methodist was first to make the move, a slew of other medical institutions are following suit. At least 274,000 health care workers in Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania face looming deadlines to get fully immunized against a virus that's killed nearly 600,000 Americans. 

Two Baltimore-based institutions — the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) and John Hopkins Medicine — recently announced vaccine mandates. 

"Scientific evidence tells us that from a safety and efficacy standpoint, COVID-19 vaccines represent a dramatic accomplishment and a clear pathway out of this pandemic," Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of UMMS, said Wednesday in a statement.

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UMMS, which employs nearly 30,000 people and runs 13 hospitals and more than 100 urgent care centers, is requiring managers and those in higher positions to be vaccinated by August 1. Other employees are required by UMMS to be fully vaccinated by September. 

Johns Hopkins is also requiring workers to be fully vaccinated by September, with 75% already meeting the mandate, according to Dr. Paul Rothman, dean of the medical faculty for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

"To avoid a rise in viral transmission as restrictions are lifted, we need as many people vaccinated as possible," he stated.

Another Maryland health system, Annapolis-based Luminis Health, is opting against mandating the shots, so long as they are only authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Capital Gazette.

RWJBarnabas Heath — New Jersey's largest private employer with more than 35,000 workers, 9,000 physicians and 1,000 residents and interns — is requiring supervisors and above be vaccinated by the end of June. It expects the mandate "will eventually be required for all staff," it announced May 20.

Hospitals in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday announced a consensus agreement to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 30,000 workers, 70% of which are already vaccinated. Each of 14 hospitals will set their own deadline.  

Indianapolis-based Community Health Network's 16,000 workers have until September 15 to get vaccinated, something 60% have already done, the medical system said Thursday in announcing its requirement.

Indiana University Health is giving its 36,000 employees until September 1 to get vaccinated, with 61% having already received their shots. 

Still, as at Houston Methodist, some are not taking the vaccination mandates in stride. 

"Not new or unprecedented"

An online petition protesting the mandate by IU Health has garnered more than 10,000 signatures. Opponents are planning a protest on Saturday in the hopes of getting the health care provider to reconsider, IU Health employee Traci Staley told an NBC affiliate in Fort Wayne. Staley started a Facebook group for workers against the vaccine requirement. 

IU Health says its mandate is in line with past policies.

"Requiring vaccinations for healthcare employees is not new or unprecedented. IU Health has required the flu vaccine since 2012, along with several other vaccines as a condition of employment," a spokesperson for the operator of 15 hospitals and dozens of outpatient clinics stated in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.

IU Health's mandate came as Indiana University softened its earlier stance on vaccinations, making optional whether students and employees show proof of COVID-19 jabs. The modification came after criticism from many state officials.

News that 3,300 workers at Benefis Health System in Great Falls, Montana, would have to be vaccinated by July 1 prompted a collection of between 10 and 30 non-employees to take to the street, according to the Great Falls Tribune. "Here in America, we have freedom of choice. To tell someone to choose a vaccine over their career is evil," Tammy Evans, a Great Falls resident who organized the protests, told the newspaper.

Reached for comment, Benefis said on Friday in an email that it had changed its policy and rescinded its vaccine mandate. A spokesperson declined to elaborate, saying "we are ready to move on from this topic."

Elsewhere, the University of Pennsylvania Health System is giving its roughly 44,000 workers until September 1 to be fully vaccinated, and won't hire unvaccinated people starting July 1, UPHS said. About 33,000 of its employees had already rolled up their sleeves for the shots as of late May, it added.

Some employees of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health — four hospitals that are part of the Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania Health system — are petitioning against it, according to LancasterOnline

"We're of the belief that individuals should be able to choose for themselves whether or not to get the vaccine — not their employer," Eric Winter, an attorney advising the Lancaster General employees, told the news outlet.

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The federal agency overseeing workplace discrimination rules has a different view. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently reiterated its stance that employers are allowed to require COVID-19 vaccines.

The federal government is not mandating vaccination, but "for some health care workers or essential employees, a state or local government or employer, for example, may require or mandate that workers be vaccinated as a matter of state or other law," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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