Hospitals press workers to get vaccinated as COVID-19 variants spread

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Some hospitals are starting to mandate workers get COVID-19 vaccines as new immunizations flag and variants of the virus spread nationwide, spurring pushback from employees.

More than a dozen hospital systems have announced in recent months they will require the shots, including major hospital systems in Missouri and Michigan, states where less than half the total population is fully vaccinated. St. Louis-based SSM Health said its workforce must have at least one dose by Sept. 1, with an earlier deadline for leadership. Two other St. Louis-area hospital systems set deadlines for September and August. Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System gave employees until early September to comply.

Some hospital executives say mandates signal confidence in vaccines and protect their workforce as new variants drive up hospitalizations, with employers in some cases willing to fire those who don’t comply.

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Yet the sector, which employs more than 5 million, is divided over mandates amid a hiring boom across industries prompted by the economic rebound.

Mandates could alienate workers, said Dr. David Priest, an executive with Novant Health, where officials are debating when to act. “Just because you work in healthcare doesn’t mean you’re immune to the cultural and political influence of the community where you live,” he said.

Hospital employment hasn’t yet rebounded to its pre-pandemic high in February 2020. But urgent care and other outpatient center hiring — including locations owned by hospitals — has surpassed the peak, according to analysis of federal data from health policy and consulting nonprofit Altarum.

Vaccine mandates from healthcare providers have met resistance, prompting legal action, union pushback and public outcry.

Such was the case at Houston Methodist, where more than 100 employees sued the hospital system over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate. A federal judge sided with Houston Methodist, which terminated some employees who refused the vaccine. Others resigned.

Thousands of workers at some hospitals remained unvaccinated as of June 25, according to the most-recent federal data from U.S. hospitals voluntarily reporting figures.

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Some workers say they distrust public information about the vaccines. Others say they voluntarily got vaccinated, but object to a mandate by an employer.

Click here to read the full article at WSJ.com.