More Va. health systems announce vaccine mandates
Hampton Roads hospitals set Oct. 18 deadline; UVA Health is Nov. 1
Major hospital systems in Hampton Roads and Central Virginia announced Wednesday that they will require all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
In Hampton Roads, Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, Riverside Health System and Sentara Healthcare jointly announced the requirement and began notifying employees Wednesday morning that they must receive the Johnson & Johnson shot or both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines by Oct. 18.
UVA Health set Nov. 1 as the deadline for its employees. They must have gotten either both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or the Johnson & Johnson shot by Oct. 18, to allow for the two weeks to pass for them to fully effective.
The announcements follow the news that the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday.
The announcements come as the delta variant has spread across the United States, and throughout Virginia. As of Wednesday, 747,640 cases were reported in Virginia, including nearly 3,500 new cases Wednesday. About 5.4 million Virginians or 63.3% have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 4.7 million Virginians, or about 56%, are fully vaccinated. About 75% of adults over the age of 18 in Virginia have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
“We applaud Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters health system, Riverside Health System and Sentara Healthcare for taking this important step in the name of public health and safety,” Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton said. The association issued a July 18 statement supporting vaccine mandates for hospital and health system employees.
An estimated 73% to 74% of Sentara Healthcare’s 28,000 employees have received at least one shot, said Sentara Chief Physician Executive Dr. Jordan Asher. Employees who received vaccines outside of the health system must self-report their vaccination status, Asher said, and Sentara cannot guarantee that all have done so yet.
For Sentara, the COVID-19 vaccine requirement is an extension of its current policy requiring the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), tetanus, chickenpox, hepatitis B and flu vaccines. Employees who refuse to adhere to the policy face a progressive disciplinary process that can lead to termination, Asher said. The policy applies to all employees within the U.S., including remote workers, vendors, contractors, volunteers and anyone else associated with the system.
Multiple factors determined the decision, Asher said. “We think about improving health every day, not only for those patients that have entrusted their care to us,” he said, “but [also] our employees, our medical staff and most importantly, our communities … we are a part of.”
The requirement aligns with the system’s “Safe at Sentara” protocols. The FDA approval, the delta variant’s rapid spread and impact on children, and the system’s goal to prevent it from being overwhelmed and unable to deliver care were also factors, Asher said.
As of Wednesday, 86% of UVA Health’s 14,0000 employees, not including contractors, have been vaccinated, hospital leaders said during a news conference. Anyone who remains unvaccinated on Nov. 1 will face disciplinary action, including the possibility of termination. UVA Health will consider employee requests for exemptions for medical and religious reasons. UVA Health has been holding vaccination clinics and employees also are allowed to get vaccinations from other health care providers.
“We just feel at UVA our duty and responsibility is to make sure that we’re having everyone as safe as possible, so that includes our teams, our community and for patients, to be able to serve as many patients as possible,” said University of Virginia Medical Center CEO Wendy Horton. The full authorization of the Pfizer vaccine by the federal government was one of the factors considered when setting the policy, Horton said, but she noted that UVA Health also was “weighing what’s happening with our own vaccination rates, the patient population, how we’re doing across the commonwealth.”
Other health systems around the commonwealth have been taking steps in a similar direction in recent weeks, with some mandating the vaccination.
Falls Church-based Inova Health System announced in June it would require its 18,000 employees to get the vaccine by Sept. 1. Virginia Commonwealth University Health System in Richmond announced in August it would require employees to be vaccinated by Sept 15. VCU Health employees must submit requests for religious or medical exemption by Sept 1 or get their first dose by Sept. 15.
Carilion Clinic in Roanoke said employees who are vaccinated by Oct. 1 will get a $150 bonus in their Oct. 15 paycheck. Anyone who chooses not to get vaccinated after Oct. 1 will be tested weekly for COVID-19. As of Aug. 18, 70% of the workforce and 99% of physicians received the vaccine, according to a news release from the hospital.