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Nation’s largest hospital group supports mandatory coronavirus vaccines for health workers

Universal vaccination of employees would ‘protect all patients,’ the American Hospital Association says

Nurse Debbie Rosse administers a coronavirus vaccine Dec. 16 to nurse Kate Pasternak at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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The nation’s largest hospital association called Wednesday for all health workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus as case numbers surge again.

“To protect all patients, communities and personnel from the known and substantial risks of COVID-19, the American Hospital Association strongly urges the vaccination of all health care personnel,” the organization said in a policy statement. “The AHA also supports hospitals and health systems that adopt mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for health care personnel, with local factors and circumstances shaping whether and how these policies are implemented.”

“The evidence is clear: COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in reducing both the risk of becoming infected and spreading the virus to others,” said Richard J. Pollack, the AHA’s president and chief executive, in an accompanying statement.

The AHA — which represents nearly 5,000 hospitals — is the largest health-care group to endorse mandatory vaccine requirements for health workers. The association had held off formalizing its stance on mandatory vaccinations in recent weeks, even as some health workers sued or protested over hospitals’ vaccine requirements.

“This is clearly what is necessary,” said Ashish K. Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, who has argued that the Hippocratic oath “demands” that health workers get vaccinated. “It’s really good for patients, and it gives cover to a lot of hospitals that have been on the fence.”

Calls to vaccinate health workers against the coronavirus have increased amid a recent surge in U.S. cases linked to the fast-spreading delta variant of the virus. The daily average of confirmed cases has tripled from fewer than 13,000 in early July to more than 40,000 now, according to The Washington Post’s seven-day average of coronavirus cases, and coronavirus-related hospitalizations have risen more than 30 percent in the past week.

But many health workers still have not been vaccinated, including 42 percent of workers at Jackson Memorial, Miami’s public hospital, WPLG-TV reported Tuesday, with some personnel insisting they would not get vaccinated until the vaccines are formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Houston Methodist, one of the first U.S. health systems to require coronavirus shots, faced a lawsuit from workers over the policy, and about 150 refused to comply and were fired or resigned. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, and nearly 25,000 Houston Methodist workers complied and were vaccinated.

Public health experts have reiterated that the vaccines, which have received emergency authorization from the FDA, are safe and effective.

Jha warned that although most physicians have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, vaccination rates for nurses and other health-care personnel have lagged in the absence of hospital mandates.

“I really hope [AHA’s statement] moves the needle,” Jha said. “I expect it will.”

The AHA’s statement followed a similar message from the Association of American Medical Colleges, which on Friday urged its members to require vaccines for health-care personnel. The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and other health-care organizations last week also came out in favor of requiring health workers to be vaccinated against the virus.