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Seven leading organizations representing health care professionals who routinely battle infections issued a joint statement today saying that COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers should be mandatory.
Seven major health care organizations whose members often battle infections as part of their jobs issued a joint statement today saying that all health care workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19, unless there are medical reasons for not doing so. The organizations sent representatives to a panel organized by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA). The 6 other signers of the statement are:
The consensus statement was published online today in the Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology. The organizations use mandated influenza vaccination as an example. They note that compliance among health care workers mandated to get the flu vaccine was 94.4% in the 2019-2020 season. For health care workers who did not have to get the flu vaccine, compliance was 69.9%.
“While vaccinations represent one of the most effective strategies to mitigate risk of transmission of communicable diseases, vaccination of HCP with ACIP-recommended vaccines prior to the COVID-19 pandemic has been suboptimal, with approximately 50% of surveyed HCP [health care professionals] in March 2021 remaining unvaccinated,” the statement reads.
The panel examined legal considerations, and state and federal law. It also tackled the issue of medical exemptions.
“If an exemption is granted, an employer may require employees to comply with accommodations in lieu of receiving the vaccine,” the statement reads. “Accommodations may include providing an alternative form of the vaccine, requiring an exempted employee to wear a face mask, or requiring an exempted employee to follow physical distancing measures (including reassignment away from vulnerable patient populations, curtailing job duties to lessen or eliminate direct patient contact, or allowing the employee to work remotely if feasible).”
David J. Weber, a member of the SHEA Board of Trustees and lead author of the statement, said in a press release that “the COVID-19 vaccines in use in the United States have been shown to be safe and effective. By requiring vaccination as a condition of employment we raise levels of vaccination for health care personnel, improve protection of our patients, and aid in reaching community protection. As health care personnel, we’re committed to these goals.”
Back in April, Kevin Kavanagh, MD, a member of Infection Control Today®’s Editorial Advisory Board, wrote in an opinion piece in ICT® that health care workers who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine put vulnerable patients at risk, an act Kavanagh described as “reprehensible.”
Kavanagh wrote that “if you work in a health care facility, you need to be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2. If you choose not to become vaccinated, then you should choose not to be working in a health care setting.”
At that point, most experts interviewed by ICT® said that forcing health care workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine might be something that would have to be addressed down the road.
But the issue came to a head sooner than most expected when Houston Methodist Hospital suspended employees who did not get the COVID-19 vaccine. In late June, 153 of the hospital’s employees were either fired or resigned over the mandated vaccination issue, while a number of hospitals across the country followed Houston Methodist’s lead and made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory.
Soon after, APIC released a statement backing mandatory vaccination for health care workers. APIC 2021 President Ann Marie Pettis, BSN, RN, CIC, said in a press release that the organization “applauds health care organizations for taking this bold patient safety step.”
Pettis continued: “Low health care staff vaccination rates put vulnerable populations at risk of contracting COVID-19. As health care professionals, we have an ethical responsibility to protect those individuals entrusted to our care.”