More than 50 health care organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Nurses Association (ANA), on Monday called on health care employers to require staff to get vaccinated against Covid-19—as California, New York City, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) all tightened their own vaccine guidance.
Health care organizations call for employers to enact vaccine mandates for health care workers
In their joint statement on Monday, the health care organizations said a vaccine mandate is "the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being."
"It's clear that right now the delta variant has the upper hand, and we think it's time to ask employers to require their employees to be vaccinated as the next step," Susan Bailey, president of AMA, said.
Ernest Grant, president of ANA, said his members are wary of another surge in Covid-19 cases, many of which could be prevented.
"I get phone calls and emails and conversations on a daily basis from nurses across the country [who] are saying, 'I just reached my limit. I'm exhausted,'" he said. "It is very frustrating when you know there are vaccines out there that are effective and can drive down the spread."
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki praised the statement but did not issue a similar call for employers to enact vaccine mandates, The Hill reports.
Government employers announce new vaccine requirements and guidance
Meanwhile, in a separate statement issued Monday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Covid-19 vaccines will be mandatory for all Title 38 VA health care workers—a category that includes physicians, dentists, RNs, and physician assistants—who work in Veterans Health Administration facilities, visit those facilities, or provide direct care to patients served by the VA.
"Whenever a veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from Covid-19," McDonough said. "With this mandate, we can once against make—and keep—that fundamental promise."
Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) on Monday announced that all city workers will be required to receive a Covid-19 vaccine or participate in weekly testing by September 13, a mandate that is expected to apply to around 340,000 workers, Axios reports.
And the office of California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that, beginning in August, all state employees and health care workers will be required to either show proof of vaccination or participate in regular testing.
"We're at a point in this epidemic, this pandemic, where choice, individuals' choice not to get vaccinated, is now impacting the rest of us, in a profound and devastating and deadly way," Newsom said. "That choice has led to an increase in case rates [and] growing concern around increase in death rates."
Are more vaccine mandates coming?
Some experts suggested that Monday's announcements would inspire more organizations to impose their own vaccine mandates.
"You can call it a tipping point," Mark Ghaly, California's health secretary, said. "For so many Californians and Americans, this might be the time to get vaccinated."
"It's clear that gentle persuasion did not achieve the [vaccination] rate we need to defeat Covid," Bob Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, said. "Yes, the politics are hard, but dying is worse, as is re-tanking the economy. It's time for vaccine mandates—nothing else gets us where we need to go."
Ezekiel Emanuel, a medical expert at the University of Pennsylvania and former health care adviser to President Barack Obama's administration, helped organize the medical groups' joint statement, and said that despite efforts so far, "we're still just shy of 50% of the population vaccinated."
"We really need to go to the next level, and mandates, especially of health care workers, are the next level," Emanuel added.
Emanuel said he expects more health care employers will enact vaccine mandates. "We have reached a confluence where heath care workers want vaccine mandates, and the government is responding."
However, some labor groups pushed back on mandatory vaccination.
"In order for everyone to feel safe and welcome in their workplaces, vaccinations must be negotiated between employers and workers, not coerced," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said.
Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University, said he anticipates opposition to vaccine mandates.
"Our take is that there is a substantial opposition to workers and schoolchildren being required to be vaccinated. It may be getting slightly better over time, but that is a lot of employed people who do not want a requirement," he said.
Citing a Politico-Harvard poll that found Americans were evenly divided about whether non-health care workers or schoolchildren should be required to get vaccinated, Beldon added, "If I were a legislator looking at our findings, I would be very cautious of forcing a mandate for employed people and parents of kids over 12, particularly in Republican-oriented states." (Owens, Axios, 7/27; Sullivan, The Hill, 7/27; Diamond, Washington Post, 7/26; Allassan, Axios, 7/26; Anthes, New York Times, 7/26; Sullivan, The Hill, 7/26; Walker, MedPage Today, 7/26; Frazier, Axios, 7/26)