The Biden administration announced the deadline for healthcare facilities in an order Thursday. Unlike other private sector workers, health care employees don’t have a testing option.
Hospitals and healthcare systems have known their workers would have to get the COVID-19 vaccines, but now they have a deadline.
President Joe Biden’s administration issued an order Thursday requiring workers at all healthcare facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. The rule applies to 17 million workers at about 76,000 facilities.
The Biden administration also issued a separate order requiring all private companies with 100 or more workers to get the COVID-19 vaccines by Jan. 4. But the order aimed at hospitals and healthcare facilities carries an important distinction. For healthcare workers, there is no testing option.
The federal order covering most of the private sector calls for companies to get their workers vaccinated or require proof of negative tests on at least a weekly basis. But hospitals and healthcare facilities have a simple order to get their workers vaccinated, without an option for testing.
Notably, the Biden administration said its orders supersede any state or local laws that prohibit or limit companies from requiring vaccinations, testing or masks.
The Biden administration’s order for healthcare facilities applies to all employees, including those in clinical and non-clinical roles. It also covers students, trainees and volunteers. In addition, the federal order applies to any individuals providing services under contract.
The order covers hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, dialysis facilities, home health agencies, and long-term care facilities.
Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety policy with the American Hospital Association, said some hospitals are grateful they still have some time to get workers vaccinated.
“We appreciate the fact they’ve given us until Jan. 4,” Foster said. “Typically, final rules are effective immediately. That would have had a devastating impact on facilities who do not have fully vaccinated employees.”
Still, the Jan. 4 deadline carries more pressure for some hospitals.
“A number of them had implemented their own vaccine mandates,” Foster said. “In other places, they do have a ways to go. They’ll have to work fast in order to put the mandate in place.”
“The challenging part of the rule is if employees remain unvaccinated on Jan. 4 or just partially vaccinated, they have to be furloughed until they get fully vaccinated,” she said. “That point of time will have to be very crucial for hospitals. They have to make sure they have sufficient staff that are fully vaccinated.”
Some hospitals in recent months have already moved forward with their own requirements for employees to get vaccinated or face termination. Some states have also imposed their vaccine requirements for hospitals and healthcare workers.
California was the first state in the country to require all healthcare workers to be vaccinated, issuing an order in August.
In September, New York state issued an order mandating all healthcare employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. As of Nov. 3, 94% of all New York hospital staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state records. In late September, about 77% had been vaccinated. Rhode Island and Connecticut have also issued vaccine requirements for healthcare workers.
The federal order mandating vaccinations or tests at private companies with 100 or more employees covers 84 million workers. With the separate order requiring health care workers to be vaccinated, more than 100 million American workers nationwide now face some kind of vaccine requirement.
Some states have vowed to fight the federal government’s mandate of vaccinations at private employers. In at least 24 states, Republican attorneys general have said they would fight the federal government in court, The Washington Post reported.
In some areas, some healthcare workers have quit or threatened to walk due to the vaccine mandate. In September, 125 workers at Indiana University Health left over the system’s vaccination requirement, Newsweek reported, but that’s a miniscule percentage of the system’s 35,000 workers.
Nationwide, 67% of all Americans have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 58% are fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among those 12 and older, 78% of Americans have had at least one shot and 68% are fully vaccinated.
Earlier this week, federal regulators approved the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11. Health care systems are already giving out the first shots and are expected to ramp up vaccination efforts over the next week.