COVID Vaccination Required for Maryland Hospital Workers

The move comes on the heels of announcements from the leading vaccine makers that they would seek full approval for their coronavirus vaccines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Maryland hospitals and health systems will each set a date for employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, setting the stage for immunization requirement at all other state businesses, workplaces and institutions.

“Maryland’s dedicated hospital workers have served bravely on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 since the first cases emerged in Maryland 15 months ago,” said Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association. “This consensus demonstrates hospitals’ commitment to caring for their communities and fulfills their promise to put patients first.”

The University of Maryland Medical System, the state’s largest hospital network, was first to set dates, requiring workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the summer.

Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of the Maryland hospital system, said officials feel confident in the safety and efficacy of the shots, now six months into the launch of the vaccination campaign in the state and around the country.

“We believe in the science, and we trust the data behind the vaccine development,” Suntha said. “We understand vaccination provides the single biggest opportunity to lead ourselves and society out of the pandemic.”

The move comes on the heels of announcements from the leading vaccine makers that they would seek full approval for their coronavirus vaccines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The vaccines have been administered to millions of people with very rare severe reactions since last December.

It also follows a decision by the University System of Maryland’s 12 schools and Morgan State University to require students, faculty and staff returning to campuses this fall to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The emergency authorization granted to Pfizer/ BioNtech and Moderna for their two-dose vaccines, following expedited development, had given pause to some employers both inside and outside health care in requiring the inoculation.

In December, when the vaccines were first introduced, Suntha and leaders from MedStar Health and Johns Hopkins Medicine said on a call with Baltimore business leaders that while they would not mandate COVID-19 vaccinations initially, they would strongly encourage workers to get inoculated.

“We are going to share openly the science; we’re using all the national communication,” said Kenneth A. Samet, MedStar’s CEO and president. “Our physician leaders, when their time comes, they will be first in line.”

MedStar and other hospitals are expected to follow suit in Maryland and around the country, such as Houston Methodist Hospital system, which recently began suspending a small percentage of unvaccinated workers.

The COVID-19 vaccine policy is in sync with long-running hospital policies for the flu vaccine, for example, which requires an annual shot.

While cases are dropping across the country, the move also reflects a growing push nationally to get health care workers vaccinated to prevent another wave of infections and help end the coronavirus pandemic.

Hospitals have reported that nearly all severely sick COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.

There have been more than 33 million COVID-19 cases across the country and more than 598,000 deaths. Close to 64% of the adult population has gotten at least one shot of vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Maryland, there have been nearly 461,000 COVID-19 infections and more than 9,400 deaths, according to state health data. More than 71% of adults have gotten at least one shot.

At the University of Maryland Medical System, the policy takes effect Sept. 1 for 29,000 staff, contractors, volunteers and students working in its 13 hospitals or the system’s network of urgent care centers. Managers and executive-level staff will have until Aug. 1.

Those who don’t comply will have to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. After the vaccines are granted full approval, the shots will become mandatory with “limited exceptions” for medical conditions, religious beliefs and pregnancy, according to the medical system.

Suntha would not say how many in the system have been vaccinated already, but said there are various reasons that people have so far refused. Some have conditions or beliefs, but others remain hesitant, which he said reflects the geographic and demographic diversity of the workforce.

Suntha and other system officials said the Maryland system and the affiliated medical school, which has been involved in testing the vaccines, have provided ample data to support the safety of the vaccines. And the system will continue to push the case for vaccination.

“As health care workers, it is our responsibility to do all we can to protect our patients and colleagues, and that includes getting the COVID-19 vaccine, which our research scientist colleagues at the University of Maryland School of Medicine were instrumental in helping develop and test during clinical trials,” said Dr. Michelle Gourdine, the system’s interim chief medical officer. “We have seen firsthand the benefits of vaccination and we believe it is important for trusted organizations like ours who serve as anchor institutions within our communities to set a clear example.”

This article will be updated.

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