As coronavirus cases creep upward in Wisconsin and surge in other parts of the country, like Missouri and Florida, private and public medical organizations are increasingly pushing for mandatory vaccinations among health care workers.
On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require front-line health care staff to be vaccinated, including doctors, dentists, nurses and some specialists. Later the same day, citing patient safety, Mayo Clinic announced that all staff would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Meanwhile, nearly 60 national medical groups and the nursing home industry group LeadingAge issued a joint statement noting that a good deal of health care and long-term care personnel remain unvaccinated and could transmit the virus to those who can’t yet get the vaccine, like younger children, and those for whom it may be less effective, such as immunocompromised people.
In June, SSM Health, a regional health care system with hospitals in Wisconsin and three other states, was the first in Wisconsin to announce it would require its employees to be vaccinated, giving them until the end of September to do so.
“We are at the point now where we need to continue to lead by example by making sure our employees are vaccinated and protected so we can create a safe environment for our patients,” said Mo Kharbat, vice president of pharmacy services for SSM Health.
Requiring health care staff to get vaccinated against influenza is done at many hospitals in Wisconsin and around the country, but for the most part, hospitals and nursing homes have been reluctant to mandate COVID-19 vaccines which is currently under emergency use authorization and does not yet have full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Wisconsin Hospital Association called mandatory inoculation for staff against COVID-19 “an important option” for hospitals. In a prepared statement, WHA pointed to the more contagious delta variant, workforce and community vaccination rates and health care access.
The hospital group also noted it has to consider state and federal laws. A pending bill in the Wisconsin Legislature is not aimed specifically at health workers but would prohibit any employer from mandating vaccines for their workers. The bill passed the Assembly this March but has not been taken up by the Senate.
Like the hospital association, the Wisconsin Medical Society believes health facilities should be able to make their own decisions on whether to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory while encouraging workers in health care settings to get a shot.
“We absolutely need our hospitals to be as safe as possible,” said Dr. Jerry Halverson, who is on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Medical Society.
In May of this year, hospital leaders from around Wisconsin urged more people to voluntarily get vaccinated against COVID-19 saying doing so would “allow us to get back to the people and things we miss.”