Make COVID-19 Vaccinations Mandatory for Health Workers, Groups Say

As infections and hospitalizations rise across the country, groups led by the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association called for mandatory vaccinations of staff.

Leading healthcare associations, led by the largest groups representing doctors and nurses, on Monday called for making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory as infection and hospitalization rates climbed in every state, reaching levels not seen since the pandemic’s winter peak.

“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” wrote the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the American Public Health Association, among other groups, in a joint statement.

Hours later, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order requiring healthcare workers and state employees to show proof of vaccination or wear masks and undergo regular testing. Following soon after were vaccine orders from New York City and the Veterans Administration, the first federal agency.

But elsewhere, some states with the fastest-rising infection rates have moved to bar vaccine and mask mandates.

The healthcare coalition deemed their call to action the “logical fulfilment of the ethical commitment of all healthcare workers,” which would protect patients and put their needs first. The 57 groups said vaccinations should be mandatory among workers across healthcare, including long-term care, where older, sick Americans were among those who saw the highest mortality rates in the early days of the pandemic.

Vaccine mandates have been upheld by the courts. Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas dismissed 117 workers in June for refusing COVID-19 vaccinations; they sued, but a federal court ruled in favor of the hospital. The largest health system in New Jersey, RWJBarnabasHealth, fired six supervisors for refusing to get vaccinated, and other health systems in the state followed with their own mandates.

Public health leaders and policy makers have raised alarms in recent days as the fast-spreading delta variant has caused COVID-19 cases to surge 60% during July. Infection and mortality rates are highest in Southern states and counties where vaccination rates are below 40%, including Southwest Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.

According to the CDC, the delta variant is responsible for 83% of new infections nationwide.

In their statement, the AMA-led coalition noted that many healthcare organizations already require proof of vaccination for influenza, hepatitis B, and pertussis, and that being vaccinated protects children who can't get shots and those with compromised immune systems.

Long-term care facilities present a vexing problem: some in the industry fear a mandate could make it even harder to deal with staffing shortages that predate the pandemic. The Associated Press reports that while 80% of the residents are vaccinated, only about 59% of nursing home staff are. The healthcare groups addressed this issue in their statement:

“Providers that have required staff vaccinations have reported high vaccine acceptance by previously hesitant care professionals, and many providers report that when staff vaccination rates are high, they become providers of choice in their communities” the organization Leading Age said in a statement.

The Biden administration is reluctant to call for a vaccine mandate for nursing homes, the AP reported. However, a provision of a recently proposed rule asks for input on how to publicize vaccination rates of hospital outpatient staff and those in ambulatory surgical centers.

Allison Inserro contributed to this report.