Should COVID-19 vaccines be mandated for healthcare workers?

As COVID-19 cases rise again, the pressing question of whether vaccinations should be required for health care workers is gaining attention.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which serves immuno-compromised children, recently issued a mandate that all employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 9. The mandate drew media attention and threw these types of requirements back into the spotlight.

Audiey Kao, MD, PhD, vice president of ethics of the American Medical Association, recently weighed in on the issue, arguing that healthcare workers have an obligation to get vaccinated against preventable disease and protect patients while also upholding the “first do no harm” core ethic. The AMA believes mandates should be implemented after the vaccines receive full approval from the FDA. Currently, COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna available in the U.S. are authorized for emergency use by the FDA and are expected to receive full approval in the coming weeks and months.

“AMA's position is that nonmedical exemptions, such as religious or philosophical objections, to vaccinations, endanger the health of the unvaccinated individual and those whom the individual comes in contact with, so the AMA supports legislation eliminating nonmedical exemptions from immunizations,” Kao said in a video interview.

Fortunately, a recent AMA survey found 96% of physicians reported being vaccinated against COVID-19, Kao shared.

As more healthcare organizations consider requiring employees to be vaccinated, it’s important to keep in mind there is legal precedence. A Texas court recently ruled that a Houston hospital was within its rights to require hospital workers to get vaccinated. Additionally, hospitals have required their employees to receive the annual flu shot for many years. 

Part of the resistance of controversy over mandating the COVID-19 vaccine in the healthcare space stems from the politicizing of the virus. Six states have approved laws limiting mandatory COVID-19 shots, further politicizing the issue, according to Kao. 

For the time being, hospitals and health care organizations may want to implement incentives in lieu of mandates to ramp up vaccinations among healthcare workers. Though, mandates are still acceptable and supported by legal precedence. 

“Many hospitals and health systems seem hesitant to mandate vaccinations until COVID-19 vaccines are fully approved by the FDA,” Kao said. “So I would end by simply saying that if and when hospitals and health systems decide to mandate COVID vaccinations, they will be standing on solid ethical and legal grounds to do so.”

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