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More health care organizations impose vaccine mandates on workers

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India Medley, chief nursing officer at Howard University Hospital, receives the COVID-19 vaccine in December. Many patients expect their doctors and nurses to be vaccinated.

India Medley, chief nursing officer at Howard University Hospital, receives the COVID-19 vaccine in December. Many patients expect their doctors and nurses to be vaccinated. Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

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Two of the biggest hospital trade groups have thrown their support behind the idea of requiring health care workers to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.

And this week, New York City public hospitals joined a growing number of health care organizations in doing that.

There are obvious benefits to ensuring that workers are vaccinated — especially in the health care setting — but mandates have costs too.

It’s hard to quantify exactly how many health care workers remain unvaccinated in the United States. One survey put it at a quarter. But any unvaccinated health care worker is too big a risk, said Mike Slubowski, the head of Trinity Health, which operates in 22 states.

“If I go to the hospital or to the clinic, I expect that the people that are going to care for me are vaccinated,” he said. “They should be. They have to be.”

Vaccination is the most important tool available to keep patients safe, Slubowski said, so Trinity will require it of all staff starting in September.

Such policies are legal and nothing new in health care, according to Robert Field, a health law professor at Drexel University. Many organizations, including Trinity, have required flu vaccines for years.

“The first and primary obligation of a health care institution is to safeguard the health and safety of its patients. ‘First, do no harm,'” Field said.

Although COVID-19 vaccines have been rigorously tested, they haven’t received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. So some organizations have hesitated to require them, even though data has been compiled for about eight months and hundreds of millions of doses have been given.

Plus, forcing mandates on health care workers could backfire, said Pat Kane, with the New York State Nurses Association.

“We’re already dealing with a workforce that has been traumatized and has a lot of mistrust, you know, in the system that didn’t protect them,” Kane said. “And this is just going to exacerbate that.”

One of the first hospitals that mandated vaccines lost more than 150 workers who wouldn’t comply. Now hospital staffs are stretched thin and face a new wave of COVID cases.

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