By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

Dozens of national organizations, including the American Medical Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, this week issued support for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for all healthcare workers.

Noting the rise in COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations despite the wide availability of vaccines, the organizations argued  “vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures.”

“All healthcare workers should get vaccinated for their own health, and to protect their colleagues, families, residents of long-term care facilities, and patients. This is especially necessary to protect those who are vulnerable, including unvaccinated children and the immunocompromised,” the organizations wrote. “While we recognize some workers cannot be vaccinated because of identified medical reasons and should be exempted from a mandate, they constitute a small minority of all workers. Employers should consider any applicable state laws on a case-by-case basis.”

When vaccines became available, employers were unsure they could require workers to receive the shot. But a recent legal ruling and updated federal guidance seemingly support such rules. In June, a federal judge in Texas dismissed a lawsuit filed by more than 100 employees of Houston Methodist who argued administrators could not require employees to receive the vaccine as a condition of employment. In his ruling, the judge wrote, “receiving COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act and it carries no criminal penalties. [Plaintiffs are] are refusing to accept inoculation that in the hospital’s judgment will make it safer for their workers and the patients in Methodist’s care.”

Around the time of the Houston Methodist case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued updated guidance indicating employers could require a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment, as long as employers provide reasonable accommodations, a chance for exemption (when appropriate), and the requirement is not an undue burden on a particular group of employees.

Over the past two months, vaccine mandates in healthcare settings have gained momentum. For example, 74 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. Earlier this week, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to mandate COVID-19 vaccines when it announced more than 100,000 of its frontline healthcare workers will need to receive the shot within the next two months.

For continuing coverage of this issue, check out some of the latest issues of Hospital Employee Health and Healthcare Risk Management. For all the latest Relias Media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.