A significant portion of health care workers remain unvaccinated, according to a new CDC analysis. As CMS' vaccine mandate for certain health care workers nears, many hospitals are concerned about losing staff, which could significantly impact their ability to provide services and care to patients.
A CDC analysis published in the American Journal of Infection Control found that around 30% of health care workers in U.S. hospitals were unvaccinated as of Sept. 15. According to the Wall Street Journal, this suggests that around 7 million health care workers nationwide remain unvaccinated.
For the analysis, researchers examined data on 3.3 million health care workers at 2,086 hospitals that was reported to the HHS Unified Hospital Data Surveillance System between Jan. 20 and Sept. 15. The researchers found that Covid-19 vaccination rates increased from 36.1% in January to 60.2% in April, but slowed significantly in the months afterward before reaching 70% in September.
Arjun Srinivasan, associate director for the health care-associated infection prevention programs at CDC, said the increasingly slow vaccine uptake among health care works may stem in part from misinformation. Health care workers "are not fully immune from vaccine misinformation," Srinivasan said, drawing a parallel with the rest of the population.
"Additional efforts are needed to improve Covid-19 vaccine coverage among [health care personnel], such as educational and promotional activities, communication efforts to address misinformation, and providing paid time off to receive the vaccine," the authors of the analysis wrote.
In particular, the authors noted that CMS' vaccine mandate for workers at health care facilities that participate in Medicare or Medicaid could significantly increase vaccination rates among health care workers. Under CMS' rule, eligible workers must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.
But at present, two dozen states have filed lawsuits against CMS' rule, arguing the agency does not have the legal authority to enforce a vaccine mandate. However, many legal scholars have affirmed CMS' authority to do so.
According to the Journal, many health care facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes, are prepared to lose workers over CMS' vaccine mandate—and some may face operational disruptions due to this loss of staff.
For instance, Nick Lawyer, a physician at Clark Fork Valley Hospital and Family Medicine Network in Montana, said if more workers do not get vaccinated, the hospital won't be able to provide basic medical care in an area that is 90 miles away from larger hospital centers. Currently, around 55% of the hospital's 200 workers are vaccinated.
"It would mean a tremendous reduction in service," he said. According to Lawyer, the hospital—which receives about 85% of its funding from CMS—is considering offering broad leeway for religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate, but it still may not retain enough workers to avoid cutting services.
Several health care facilities have had to either stop certain services or close after losing staff to statewide Covid-19 vaccine mandates, the Journal reports.
For example, Lewis County Health System in September recently paused its maternity services after a significant number of workers refused to get vaccinated in compliance with New York's statewide vaccine mandate, which had a deadline of Sept. 27.
Separately, the Maine Health Care Association said five nursing homes and one assisted living facility have closed since the state announced a vaccine mandate for health care workers in August. In addition, some hospitals in the state have had to reduce services due to a lack of staff even with vaccination rates above 95% in most hospitals, the Journal reports. (Wernau/Dill, Wall Street Journal, 11/29; Gooch, Becker's Hospital Review, 11/19; Ault, Medscape, 11/18)
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