Thousands of hospital workers still unvaccinated

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The clock is ticking for workers at large hospital systems across central Indiana to get vaccinated for COVID-19 or risk losing their jobs.

Thousands of hospital workers have yet to get vaccinated, despite mandates that have been in place for weeks or months. And the window to meet various deadlines in August and September is quickly closing.

In recent days, many hospital systems across the region have reported that about 70% of their workforce has been vaccinated, a number that matches national figures at health care institutions.

But that means nearly one-third of hospital and clinical workers are still unvaccinated, a number that easily translates into tens of thousands of employees in hospital wards, operating and recovery rooms, outpatient clinics, laboratories, cafeterias, billing centers and administrative offices in the Indianapolis area.

As the highly contagious delta variant swarms across the country, hospital administrators and infection control experts say it’s critical that health care workers get their shots to reduce the risks to patients and other workers.

Dr. Cole Beeler

“We have a responsibility to protect our workers, and we have a responsibility to protect our patients,” said Dr. Cole Beeler, an infectious disease physician at Indiana University Health, the first hospital system in the region to mandate, on June 1, that all its workers get vaccinated.

Nationally, pressure is mounting for hospitals and clinics to get their workers vaccinated. On July 26, more than 50 medical groups representing millions of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care workers called for mandatory vaccinations of all U.S. health workers.

“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, many health care and long-term-care personnel remain unvaccinated. … We stand with the growing number of experts and institutions that support the requirement for universal vaccination of health workers.”

Many hospital systems already require employees to get vaccinated for influenza, hepatitis B, pertussis and other illnesses.

Health officials say the virus that causes COVID-19 has shown an uncanny ability to spread quickly and attack unvaccinated or weakened people.

Dr. Cory Showalter, an Indiana University Health physician, received a COVID vaccine soon after the shots became available. (Photo courtesy of Indiana University Health)

Resistance persists

Yet for some reason, a significant percentage of the health care workforce has chosen to go without a vaccination, a development that has frustrated hospital officials.

That might be puzzling, given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put health care workers at the top of the list for occupations that should receive the first vaccines.

In Indiana, front-line health care workers were able to get the vaccines as soon as they were available, even as the shots were being rationed to the general public according to which age group and health condition was seen as most vulnerable.

Dr. Christopher Doehring

“There’s been a significant subset of our workforce that’s chosen not to get vaccinated for one reason or another,” said Dr. Christopher Doehring, vice president of medical affairs at Franciscan Health.

The Catholic health care system, part of Mishawaka-based Franciscan Alliance, which owns 12 hospitals in Indiana and Illinois, this month said it would require all employees, including 4,100 in central Indiana, to get vaccinated—but the mandate would not take force until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives standard approval to the vaccines, upgrading them from emergency use.

“We’re going to continue to promote and encourage vaccination,” Doehring said. “We’re going to make it available. But we will not move toward a mandate until the FDA has provided [standard] approval for one or more of the vaccines.”

Employees at the other Catholic health system in the Indianapolis area, Ascension St. Vincent, will be required to get vaccinated by Nov. 12, according to parent Ascension Inc., based in St. Louis.

Ascension said in a statement on July 27 that tens of thousands of employees have already been vaccinated.

“But we must do more to overcome this pandemic as we provide safe environments for those we serve,” the company said in a statement.

It did not say how many employees had yet to be vaccinated. The huge system employs about 160,000 nationally, including about 14,700 in Indiana.

The parent of Eskenazi Hospital announced Thursday that all 5,500 employees would be required to get fully vaccinated by Sept. 20, becoming the latest hospital system to issue a requirement. Health and Hospital Corp. of Marion County said the requirement also will cover employees of its other operations, including the Marion County Public Health Department, Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services and all nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Employees who do not comply with the requirement face termination.

“While we know the majority of our employees have already received the COVID-19 vaccine, ensuring that all staff and providers get their shot is a critical step toward protecting the safety of our workforce, our patients, and our community,” said Paul Babcock, HHC President and Chief Executive Officer. “Vaccination lessens your risk of death from COVID by about 100-fold. We continue to urge everyone in our community who has not yet done so to walk-in and get your COVID-19 vaccine today.”

The organization said that it will consider exemptions for health or religious reasons is available.

Several smaller hospital systems, including Hancock Regional Health in Greenfield, Johnson Memorial Health in Franklin and Riverview Health in Noblesville, said it encouraged vaccinations but stopped short of laying down a mandate.

“It’s a decision we are actively considering but are awaiting FDA approval” of the vaccines, said Dr. Julia Compton, president of Hancock Physician Network, in an email to IBJ. “Once FDA approval occurs, then like many other hospitals, we will certainly consider the requirement, not dissimilarly to the flu vaccine which is also required in hospitals.”

Imposing mandates

Dr. Ram Yeleti

Yet some, like IU Health and Community Health Network, are laying down the law.

Community Health announced June 10 that it will require all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 15. The system said vendors, contractors and volunteers are included in the vaccine requirement.

“If our mission is to first do no harm, we have to make sure we don’t unintentionally give the virus to our patients,” said Dr. Ram Yeleti, chief physician executive at Community, which runs six hospitals and employs 16,000.

That wide range of responses from hospitals might be a reason the Indiana Hospital Association has not called for mandatory employee vaccinations.

“IHA supports its members who choose to require the COVID-19 vaccine for employees, recognizing that each hospital or health system needs to take its own approach to determine the needs of its community and the unique opportunities and challenges at stake,” the association’s president, Brian Tabor, said in an email to IBJ.

Brian Tabor

Likewise, the American Hospital Association, which represents nearly 5,000 hospitals, stopped short of calling for a requirement, although it did “strongly urge” the vaccination of all health care personnel in a statement July 21.

Nationally, one in four hospital workers who have direct contact with patients had not received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of May, according to an analysis by WebMD and Medscape Medical News, using data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2,500 hospitals.

Among the nation’s 50 largest hospitals, the percentage of unvaccinated health care workers was even larger, one in three.

“It’s a real problem that you have such high levels of unvaccinated individuals in hospitals,” Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, told the news organizations in a June 28 story.

“We have to protect our health workforce, and we have to protect our patients. Hospitals should be the safest places in the country, and the only way to make them safe is to have a fully vaccinated workforce,” he added.

Who is resisting?

So which health care workers are resisting vaccinations? Not physicians, according to the American Medical Association, which said in June that more than 96% of surveyed U.S. physicians have been fully vaccinated.

“Practicing physicians across the country are leading by example, with an amazing uptake of COVID-19 vaccines,” the association said in a June 11 statement.

A monthly survey by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that 12% of registered nurses and doctors admitted to being hesitant to get the shot. That’s higher than 9% of pharmacists but lower than the 20% to 23% of nursing aides and emergency medical technicians.

Some hospital workers here have said it’s unfair they have to get the vaccine.

“It irritates me,” April Harritt, a medical assistant on the hematology/oncology floor at IU Health University Hospital told The Indiana Lawyer, a sister publication of IBJ. “They are forcing their beliefs on people and not giving them a choice. It’s either get on board or get out.”

But IU Health physicians and administrators say the requirement makes abundant sense, and point out there are exceptions on religious and health grounds.

“The vaccine gives us the most durable and broadest immunity over natural infection and allows us to practice the safest care that we could possibly practice,” Beeler at IU Health said. “Any sort of gap or chinks in the armor is a place for the virus to get in and potentially cause an already sick patient to get a lot sicker and could actually lead to them dying.”•

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23 thoughts on “Thousands of hospital workers still unvaccinated

  1. Well it has become evident that the vaccine isn’t performing well. Scientists and Doctors keep changing the clinical prevention and clinical treatment. This is getting ridiculous….

  2. This is all a test run paid for by Libby’s to start control of people. Fouchi and his grants paid for the research with our tax money. You’ll die of a lightning strike before this virus.

    1. On average 41 people die of being hit by lightning each year in the US. So far 630K people have died due to COVID in the US.

    2. JL: ** You’ll die of a lightning strike before this virus. **
      I made sure of that by getting vaccinated – in spite of a medical condition. It’s funny JL, because all of your political heroes have undoubtedly been vaccinated (e.g. Donald was vaccinated back in January), and have the same protection I have.

  3. There is NO evidence that available vaccines aren’t performing well and in fact miraculously well – the virus however will eventually do better if we don’t reach herd immunity. With these vaccines this virus should and could have been gone if political leadership hadn’t chosen it as another issue to energize their base.
    Physicians DO keep changing prevention and therapeutic strategies- to not do so would be malpractice.
    Even the most insane use of statistics wouldn’t support the lightening strike statement but there is something to be said for Darwinism.

    1. Something I read today … under the ACA, it’s legal to charge smokers more for their care. If we’re not going to prohibit them from getting healthcare, howsa about we update the ACA to charge vaccine refusers full freight for their medical care?

  4. How about take cigarettes off the market? After all, the surgeon general warns cigarette use will cause cancer. We all know how much it costs to treat cancer patients. How about we update the ACA to let them know that healthy people who have high T-Cell immunity will request a discount for having no healthcare claims? They save millions of dollars on people who you say are “refusers”. Healthy people are not compelled to be lead by misinformation or demands of a vaccine that has not gone through formal approval. There is something wrong when the truth about this virus continues to be evaded; yet it is becoming a demand to get the vaccine. No thank you.

  5. If you work in the healthcare industry and you won’t get vaccinated, it’s time to search for a new career. It’s time for vaccine requirements to do things like flying, eating out, concerts, etc. I’m sick of having to wear a mask to protect unvaccinated people at various places. Those of us who were responsible last year, wore our masks, socially distanced, and stayed home are being punished because of the selfish people who did none of these things, who now refuse to get a vaccine. Block these people from being allowed in public spaces. It’s their turn to stay home. They can come out when they do what’s best for public health. If we keep letting them spread the virus everywhere, we risk it mutating and rendering our vaccines worthless.

    1. “My body, my choice.” I work in healthcare, plan to enjoy being in public spaces, flying, eating out, concerts, etc. Wore masks without any peer reviewed studies to warrant the demands…for a micro level particle size engineered virus, socially distanced, stayed home when not required for surgery/work, etc. Followed all the arbitrary rules. There is no reason to force vaccines with a EUA gene therapy that has not been vetted. Further, many vaccinated continue to test positive for COVID, and the “pros” at the CDC with zero transparency in data are continuing to put a finger in the air to make decisions.

      “Block these people from being allowed” to be American’s is Wes’ answer.

      Healthcare – the new politics of the left.

      And the power grab by politicians continues to grow each day.

    2. You are willfully misrepresenting the capabilities of this vaccine and you know it. Working in health care doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about.

      A vaccine that this radically reduces the percentage of people who contract the virus, get hospitalized by the virus, and die from a virus … developed in one year … is pretty damn incredible.

      And if you studied any amount of history, you know that eradication is only possible not by a better vaccine, but by just about everyone getting the vaccine.

      But go on with your nonsense that kills people. The misinformation you’re consuming has killed far more people than the vaccine ever did.

    3. Joe B. – “comply or else!”

      Zero transparency of COVID health data by the tens of thousands who work at the CDC.
      Increase reimbursement to chart a patient as “suspected COVID”.
      Testing that has many false positives just to suit the bias of the testing party.

      Flu vaccinations every year, no eradication.
      But wait, is there influenza anymore? We don’t seem to report those tests anymore?

      Again, healthcare that is politicized and not transparent has killed people.

      Peer review and prospective studies drive healthcare decisions, not career politicians, the media, or progressives with an agenda.

    4. why make ’em stay home. their choice not to be vaccinated, therefore their risk. i totally agree that the masking for the vaccinated is not appropriate.

    5. The misinformation you are consuming and repeating is beyond politicized, doesn’t stand up to any peer review, and the forces pushing it are beyond opaque, so spare me.

      Explain to me how a vaccine developed under a Republican presidential administration and implemented under a Democratic presidential administration is this political. It makes no sense.

      Unless, of course, the Republican Party has become Publishers Clearinghouse for cranks who would be laughed out of the John Birch Society for their beliefs. And the party elites lost control to the loons, proving that you never accomodate crazy, you never tolerate it, you root it out.

      It’s a sad world when MTG or Boebert or Gosar or Gohmert are considered more trustworthy than career scientists, but here we are. When Mitch McConnell is going around telling people to take the vaccine, that should give a clue as to the intellectual rot within his party. Too bad he’s too much of a coward to do anything about it.

  6. There is NOT one broad brush to fix such a scandal. You really think everyone being vaccinated will fix the problem? Obviously, countless people have already had the virus so isn’t that punishment enough? When the truth is never known, then the risk is higher that the proposed demand. Go ask the lab in China why they refuse to allow research of its origin. Oh and by the way, the delta has been manufactured too.

    1. Christine – explain the truth. I asked two days ago. Go for it.

      The idea that gene therapy is a bad thing … well, in the case of several commenters here, I hate to break it to you, but at least what from what I am seeing, DNA modification might be in your best interests.

      And I’ll leave aside the idea of how many “pro-life” people who insist the state should have a say in whether a woman can get Plan B … are suddenly big fans of the idea that the state should have no say in whether people can be forced to get vaccinated, even though it’s been settled law in the United States for a century.

      It pains me to say it, but let the unvaccinated die. If they want to choose to not get vaccinated, let them suffer the consequences without medical assistance. Let them find oxygen cylinders and medical care on their own … we’ll see how the true free market would really work in health care. (Hint: poorly.)


      62 Percent of Americans Support Vaccine Mandate: Poll

      A new poll shows that a majority of Americans support a vaccine mandate, though a sharp partisan divide in support persists.

      The poll, conducted by The COVID States Project and released by PureSpectrum July 30, found that 64 percent of respondents said they support the mandate, an increase from April and May, when 62 percent said they support it.

      An even greater number of respondents—70 percent—said they support requiring the vaccine to get on an airplane. Fewer respondents said students should be required to take the vaccine.

      Sixty-one percent of respondents said children should be required to get the vaccine to go to school, and 66 percent said college students should be required to be vaccinated.

      The poll surveyed 20,669 people from all 50 states and the District of Columbia between June 9 and July 7.

      The partisan gap in support for vaccine mandates “remains vast,” the survey report said. Democrats are nearly twice as likely to support a mandate, with 84 percent saying they do, compared to 45 percent of Republicans. 57 percent of Independents said they support a mandate. Both Democrats and Republicans increased their support for a vaccine mandate by three points.

      There is also a significant gap between rural and urban attitudes toward a mandate, the report said. 73 percent of respondents form urban areas said they support the mandate, while 53 percent of rural respondents do.

  7. Well, technically if we just closed the border like a few nameless countries with almost zero Delta cases did, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

    1. Closing the border? How would power hungry career politicians be able to get new voters? Can’t do that now can we…

    2. No need for new voters when you just make up new rules so not everyone can vote…. Trumpublicans have to make it harder for Democrats to vote in 2022 to compensate for all their supporters who will be dead and unable to vote in the next election.

  8. who knew so many trumpists worked in health care, that doesn’t seem to fit the narrative. how does this talking point work out anyway. perhaps it isn’t all that you hear in the media with the vaccine

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