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ACP Joins Other Medical Organizations in Calling for Employers to Require COVID-19 Vaccines for All Health Care Workers

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The more than 60 health care organizations and societies hope the statement will serve as the tipping point to increase vaccination rates

August 13, 2021 (ACP) -- The American College of Physicians is joining forces with more than 60 other leading health care organizations to call for mandated COVID-19 shots for all health care workers.

“Since they interact with some of the most vulnerable patients at greatest risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19, health care workers have an obligation to keep those patients safe by being vaccinated themselves,” said Bob Doherty, ACP senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy.

If COVID-19 vaccine mandates are implemented by health care employers, some 17 million health care workers could be subject to such requirements. “The hope is that the joint statement will serve as the tipping point,” Doherty said, “in persuading hospitals, nursing homes, health systems and physician practices to institute such requirements.”

And the statement seems to be making a difference. Since it was released on July 26, 2021, growing numbers of health care employers have instituted policies to require that their staffs be vaccinated. As of Aug. 6, more than 100 hospitals and health care systems have mandated vaccines for their patient care employees, and the number grows by the hour, according to a report in Becker's Hospital Review.

This should have a spillover effect on the rest of the population, Doherty said. “The example of health care workers getting vaccinated is likely leading more patients and the public to get vaccinated themselves because ‘if it's good for my doctors and nurses, it must be good for me,’” he added.

The time to implement COVID-19 vaccine requirements for those in health care is now. “As the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise due to the COVID-19 Delta variant, especially among unvaccinated persons, requiring that all health care workers who can get vaccinated receive a COVID-19 vaccine will help protect them, their patients, loved ones and others who are vulnerable and immunocompromised,” Dr. George M. Abraham, ACP president, said in a news release.

The messaging is in line with the longstanding ACP policy advising that all health care workers get the vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ACP Argues Against Nonmedical Exemptions

Long before COVID-19, ACP policy opposed state laws to allow nonmedical exemptions from current vaccine requirements, such as allowing nonmedical exemptions to requirements that children be vaccinated for measles and other infectious diseases to attend school, Doherty said.

“ACP believes that the only exemption for vaccine mandates for health care workers should be when it is medically contraindicated,” he said. ACP specifically recommended that language be included in the new statement to provide only for exemptions for medical contraindications.

“We also recommend that health care employers be aware of guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other federal agencies, which state that employers can require COVID-19 vaccination as long as it is consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and other federal employment and civil rights laws,” Doherty said.

Before signing on, ACP also asked that the new statement address the distrust of health care among marginalized communities, especially those that have been, and continue to be, subject to racism and discrimination. ACP is pleased that the statement included language calling on employers to address these concerns and to provide resources to these communities to inform vaccine decision-making, Doherty said.

Vaccine mandates have been a hot topic as the Delta variant continues to spread and COVID-19-related hospitalizations are on the rise once again. Employers, universities and local governments generally can all issue some type of vaccination requirement, subject to state and federal laws. Thus far, California will require that all health care workers in the state get the vaccine, and the Department of Veterans Affairs now mandates COVID-19 vaccines for its medical employees. Other states and localities are expanding vaccine requirements to public employees, not only those in health care.

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Back to the August 13, 2021 issue of ACP Advocate