Healthcare groups urge support for COVID-19 vaccine, testing requirement

Business groups have opposed a federal rule requiring most workers to get vaccinated or submit to regular tests. Dozens of health organizations say the mandate is needed to get the virus under control and urged businesses to get on board.

Even as some states and business groups are fighting the White House’s mandate for COVID-19 vaccines at the workplace, healthcare advocates are imploring businesses to comply with the requirement.

Dozens of healthcare organizations and leaders have signed a joint letter urging the business community to support the vaccine requirement, which affects two out of three American workers.

​The American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the American Public Health Association are among the many groups who signed onto the letter. Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Andy Slavitt, the former White House coronavirus adviser, were among the healthcare leaders who signed the letter.

Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, organized the statement in support of the requirement, the AMA said in a news release.

​​“Instead of wasting time in court trying to overturn these mandates, business leaders should be focused on how to protect their employees from COVID through vaccination,” Emanuel said in the statement. “That’s the only way we’ll be able to return to normal and stabilize our economy.”

“We’ve seen over and over that employer vaccine mandates work to raise vaccination rates, and they don’t cause workforce shortages,” Emanuel said. “It’s time for the business community to step up and show the leadership our nation needs now.”

President Joe Biden's administration is requiring all private companies with 100 or more workers to get their employees vaccinated or have their workers undergo weekly testing. The deadline for these businesses is Jan. 4.

Biden’s administration issued a separate order requiring workers at all healthcare facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. For healthcare workers, there is no testing option.

The two orders affect more than 100 million Americans. Federal civilian workers must be vaccinated by Nov. 22.

States and some business organizations have filed legal challenges to the requirements. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to stop moving forward with the mandate. The White House is banking on the vaccine requirement being upheld in the courts and it could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The AMA filed an amicus brief urging the appeals court to uphold the federal mandate regarding COVID-19 vaccines.

AMA President Gerald E. Harmon said in a statement Thursday the federal rule is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

“The more workers who get vaccinated, the closer we are to slowing the spread of the virus and creating a safer environment for everyone,” Harmon said in the statement. “We know that vaccine mandates work, they result in more people getting vaccinated. Now is the time for the public and private sectors to come together, listen to the science, and mandate vaccination so we can defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Earlier this month, 10 states filed a legal challenge seeking to block the federal requirement for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, The New York Times reported.

The states argued that the rule could unfairly cost healthcare workers to lose employment despite their service throughout the pandemic. The states contend the rule will only exacerbate the shortage of healthcare workers, the Times reported.

More than 760,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19, according to federal statistics. Nationwide, cases are on the rise again, with most states seeing an uptick in new cases over the last couple of weeks. (The Washington Post COVID-19 tracker highlights current trends.)

About 71% of all American adults are fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times.

The White House announced months ago that healthcare workers would need to get vaccinated. Some hospital systems quickly implemented policies requiring workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine or face termination. Some states have also required healthcare workers to get vaccinated.

While most healthcare workers have been vaccinated, some have refused. Last week, the American Journal of Infection Control published a study that found 70% of healthcare personnel were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 15.

Earlier this month, 10 states filed a legal challenge seeking to block the federal requirement for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, The New York Times reported.

Dr. Elena Rios, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, said employers should protect their workers and communities. The association was one of many groups signing the letter in support of the vaccine requirement.

“We’re at a critical crossroads in the pandemic where we have the ability to prevent the needless loss of lives and livelihoods, we just need more people to have the will to do so," Rios said in a statement.

The federal order mandating vaccinations or tests at private companies with 100 or more employees covers 84 million workers. The separate order requiring health care workers to be vaccinated affects an additional 17 million employees.

Here’s the full statement of the healthcare organizations.

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​​Statement Supporting OSHA’s COVID Vaccination or Testing Requirement

Tragically, over 750,000 Americans have died of COVID since the beginning of 2020.1 Many thousands have died from COVID contracted on the job, such as while caring for patients, supporting the elderly, preparing food for customers, selling goods in stores, and protecting the public from crime, fires, and other threats.

For example, in North Carolina nearly a quarter of COVID clusters are linked to workplace, retail and food settings.2 COVID has also inflicted many other societal harms including loss of educational achievement and job opportunities, and increases in mental health challenges and social isolation, all of which have disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable.3,4

To overcome COVID and the highly transmissible Delta variant, and return to “normal,” we need to substantially increase the vaccination rate from its current level of under 60 percent. We need to vaccinate about another quarter of the American population, roughly 80 million more people.

Vaccines are effective in preventing COVID cases, hospitalizations and, most importantly, deaths. Compared to the vaccinated, the unvaccinated are 11 times more likely to die.5 A recent study shows that in the United States, vaccines are five times more effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization than a previous COVID infection.6 Any vaccine risk is considerably less common and less serious than the consequences of contracting COVID.

Finally, we know that vaccine mandates are effective.  When employers require workers to get vaccinated, vaccination rates increase to over 90 percent.7-9  This is especially true for people who intended to get vaccinated but have just delayed or procrastinated. Courts have repeatedly supported the legality of employer mandates.

We—physicians, nurses and advanced practice clinicians, health experts, and health care professional societies—fully support the requirement that workers at companies with over 100 workers be vaccinated or tested. This requirement by the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is reasonable and essential to protect workers.

We encourage all businesses with 100 or more employees to not delay in implementing this standard.

Requiring masks for all unvaccinated workers by the December 5th deadline will be key to keeping customers and fellow workers safe during the holiday shopping and travel season. And getting workers vaccinated or tested by the January 4th deadline will further protect workplaces and communities, bringing us closer to normal life and the end of this pandemic. 

From the first day of this pandemic, businesses have wanted to vanquish this virus. Now is their chance to step up and show they are serious. Implementing these commonsense OSHA standards is an important step for our workers, businesses, and the nation as a whole.