Seventy-four hospitals in Maryland and Washington, DC, have announced they will mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for healthcare workers under conditions that may vary at individual sites.

“Maryland’s 60 hospitals and health systems are committed to making the state’s hospitals safe for every patient, every visitor, and every staff member,” the Maryland Hospital Association (MHA) announced. “Each health system or hospital will set a date after which vaccination against COVID-19 will be a condition of employment, or contract engagement for non-employees who work at hospitals. Medical and religious exemptions will be determined by each health system or hospital.”1

All hospitals will continue to require other infection control measures for COVID-19 as recommended by the CDC.

Rupali Limaye, PhD, associate scientist in infectious diseases at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, commented on the announcement at a June 9 webinar on vaccine hesitancy.

“Students have always been required to have the vaccine to come to campus in the fall,” she said. “We just found out today that faculty and staff will also be required. There was a huge debate [on this]. For those of us who have been advising on this, I think it is a no-brainer. If you are going to have a safe campus and to really reduce the risk of community exposure, you have to require it in a way that is equitable.”

Incentives rather than mandates will probably work better for the general public, she said, mentioning Washington state’s “Joints for Jabs” program run by the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board.

“A less restrictive [approach] is going to be better for the public because that is more likely to engender trust,” Limaye said. “However, mandates for those of us of who work on medical campuses [are appropriate]. We are already required to have flu vaccination to come on campus.”

The MHA statement said approximately 70% of all Maryland hospital employees have been fully vaccinated, gaining protective benefits of immunization with few side effects.

The District of Columbia Hospital Association (DCHA) released a similar statement for its 14 hospitals, estimating a 70% immunization rate for healthcare workers and telling hospitals to pick a date to mandate the vaccine.2

The DCHA also issued implementation guidance with its consensus statement, calling for hospitals to begin developing a policy that includes a communication plan and addresses exemptions and other issues as summarized below.

  • Communication plan: Meet in person with hesitant employee groups. Share facts behind the science, safety, and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. Conduct ongoing education sessions and town halls on the vaccine. Provide physicians, nurses, and pharmacists to speak one on one with employees who request more information via phone, text, email, or in-person.
  • Scope of policy: Apply to all categories of healthcare workers, including employees, contractors, volunteers, medical staff members, students, vendors, and others. Delineate roles and responsibilities related to the implementation and management of the vaccination policy. Outline the consequences of noncompliance.
  • Considerations for new hires: For example, new hires must provide evidence of vaccination. If unvaccinated, share a specific time frame for new employees to complete vaccination.

REFERENCES

  1. Maryland Hospital Association. Maryland hospital worker mandatory COVID-19 vaccination: Consensus statement. June 7, 2021.
  2. Hirt J. District of Columbia hospitals call for employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. District of Columbia Hospital Association. June 9, 2021.