Dr Anne Klibanski, CEO of Mass General Brigham, said there is now overwhelming evidence that COVID vaccines are safe and effective.
“Getting vaccinated now is the most important thing we can do to let our employees know that we are providing the safest environment for patients, their families and each other,” she said. declared to the Globe.
Hospital officials have not set a deadline for vaccinating employees. They said they would wait until the US Food & Drug Administration grants full vaccine approval, which could take weeks or months. (The FDA cleared the vaccines for emergency use.)
Hospital workers have been eligible for COVID vaccines for months and most have received their vaccines. After seeing COVID patients suffer and die, many caregivers rushed at the opportunity to be vaccinated and became emotional when the needle entered their arms.
Mass General Brigham and Beth Israel Lahey, the two largest health care providers in Massachusetts, both said about 85% of their workers had been vaccinated.
But the health workforce is large and diverse, and not everyone has been enthusiastic about vaccines.
A union representing healthcare workers immediately opposed the new demands – although hospitals appear to have the legal right to implement them.
“Vaccination is an important tool to help us move forward, but an employer mandate is not the answer for healthcare workers who are still struggling to recover,” said Tim Foley, vice-president. -executive chairman of 1199SEIU, which represents nurses as well as technical and office workers. .
“An authoritarian approach will create more frustration,” Foley said in a statement.
David Schildmeier, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said the union would review each hospital’s specific policy before taking a position.
“We have encouraged our members to get vaccinated, and we believe the vast majority have already done so,” he said.
Many hospitals already require their employees to get their flu shot every year. The nurses’ union opposes flu vaccination mandates and, in the past, has sued – unsuccessfully – to try to block such demands.
Dr Kevin Tabb, CEO of Beth Israel Lahey, said his healthcare system has a responsibility to protect patients and employees, and he must lead by example.
“We are a science-based institution,” he said in an interview. “We know the vaccine is extraordinarily effective and we know it is safe. … We are building on a much stronger moral basis to ask others to get vaccinated when we ourselves have been vaccinated. “
At Wellforce, the hospital system that includes Tufts Medical Center, executives emailed employees saying, “COVID-19 is still with us. The Delta variant is growing in importance in the United States, and it is vitally important that we continue to do everything possible to protect our patients and ourselves. “
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute told its employees, “Because our patients are particularly vulnerable, we will strictly enforce compliance. Cancer patients are at greater risk because they may have weakened immune systems as a result of their treatments.
UMass Memorial Health Care is ultimately considering mandating the vaccine for its workers, said chief executive Dr. Eric Dickson. Seventy-six percent of employees are now vaccinated, which Dickson called “disappointing.”
“I fully foresee that we will mandate [vaccination] and that other state health systems will, ”he said.
“I think some people are probably going to quit their jobs because they don’t want to get the vaccine,” he said, “and that will make it even more difficult to staff places that are already struggling to find. Staff. “
Boston Medical Center and Steward Health Care said they are still evaluating whether to make vaccinations mandatory.
By requiring the COVID vaccine, hospitals in Massachusetts are following the lead of those in other states, including Texas, Maryland and New York.
The Houston Methodist Hospital has drawn the nation’s attention for its vaccination requirement and legal action from some of its employees who challenged the warrant. Earlier this month, a federal court sided with the hospital. A Houston Methodist spokeswoman said 153 employees had quit or been fired because of the requirement.
Having hospitals in Massachusetts waiting for full FDA approval before requiring vaccination puts them on more solid legal ground, experts told The Globe.
“Once the full approval is in place, I don’t see the likelihood of an effective challenge against this,” said Robert Kilroy, partner at Mirick O’Connell law firm.
Michael Ulrich, assistant professor of health law and ethics at Boston University, said courts have generally upheld vaccine warrants. “And with healthcare workers,” he said, “you have an even stronger justification for employers to demand it, because you have vulnerable people who are at greater risk. “
Gov. Charlie Baker, when asked about vaccination warrants on Thursday, said: “As far as I’m concerned, that’s their call. “
“At this point, I’d rather let organizations make the decisions they think will keep their employees safe,” Baker said during an appearance at Quincy. “But different people are in different places in relation to that, and I think we should respect that as well. “
Globe staff correspondent Camille Caldera and Emma Platoff contributed to this report.
Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.