Kyle Brown & Callan Gray
Updated: August 02, 2021 10:55 PM
Created: August 02, 2021 04:32 PM
Fairview Health Services and Allina Health are the latest Minnesota institutions to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees.
Fairview is setting an Oct. 31 deadline for all employees and providers across all campuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine or an accommodation; the flu shot will also be required as a condition of employment.
In an email sent to Fairview employees obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, Chief Nursing Executive and Chief Operating Officer Laura Reed and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Welton explained the health system's rationale for enacting the vaccine policy.
"As a healthcare system and an organization deeply rooted in our community, it’s our responsibility to protect the wellbeing of our teams, to provide a safe and healthy environment for those we serve, and to set an example for our neighbors," the email states. " Research overwhelmingly shows that getting a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine dramatically reduces your chances of spreading disease, experiencing severe illness and, potentially, death."
The email goes on to cite the American Medical Association and the American Nursing Association, which say increasing infections from the delta variant and vaccine skepticism should lead health care workers to “uphold their professional and ethical obligations" and set an example for disease prevention.
Fairview's vaccine requirements will extend to all providers, employees, students, volunteers, vendors and contractors who work with the health system.
“What we're all worried about is what will these next weeks look like and can we head this off?” said Dr. Andrew Olson, director of COVID hospital medicine for M Health Fairview. “This delta variant is different, and we need to get ahead of this and take every tool at our disposal to help people to make the decision that is science- and evidence-based.”
Olson also responded to potential criticism from those who don’t feel an employer should require a vaccine.
“We’re in this together,” he said. “This is the way that I can keep my family safe, my kids safe, and I will speak especially to healthcare workers: We are not in this for us — we are in this for our patients and there is a moral obligation, I believe, to keep our patients safe.”
He explained other vaccines are already required by the health care provider.
Allina Health confirmed to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it is implementing a vaccine mandate as well, in response to the surge in cases fueled by the delta variant.
“It is a much smaller surge than the nightmare we lived through over the winter. We don’t know how high this peak is going to go and that depends on all of us to get vaccinated,” said Dr. John Misa, Allina Health's vice president and clinical officer. “We're already seeing in other states what happens when communities are unvaccinated.”
Employees will be required to get a vaccine by Oct. 1.
“We have about 23% of our employees who are not vaccinated, so that takes time,” Misa said. “We also have to work out the details such as the limited exemptions that will exist for someone who cannot receive the vaccine for special religious reasons or special medical circumstances.”
He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he understands that some may be critical of the decision.
“As part of a health care organization, we are committed to protecting those whom we serve,” Misa said. “It is in our very mission statement that we prevent illness. That is what we have to lead with, and in order to do that, we know the vaccine is the way to protect our patients and each other from COVID. I do appreciate and understand those who have concerns, and concerns that are preventing them from getting immunized. However, we also have to take into account the welfare of our patients.”
Allina Health saw an increase in hospitalizations during the month of July. Throughout the healthcare system’s 11 hospitals, the number of COVID-positive patients nearly doubled between July 1 and July 31. There were about 20 to 30 COVID-positive patients at the beginning of the month. By the end of the month, that number reached 62.
M Health Fairview has also seen a slight uptick in COVID cases resulting in hospitalization. According to a spokesperson, the majority have been among those who are unvaccinated. The healthcare system is also seeing younger patients compared to those who were hospitalized before the vaccine rollout started.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the delta variant accounts for about 85% of COVID cases statewide.
“We’ve been hearing reports that patient volumes are increasing, we are seeing more infectious patients coming through the emergency department, and our clinics are continuing to test higher numbers of COVID-19 patients than they were earlier in the summer,” said Joseph Kurland, an infection preventionist at Children’s Minnesota. “My primary concern with children right now is in the group under 12 years of age that cannot get vaccinated and remain susceptible to all strains of COVID-19, including the delta variant.
He suggests parents who are hesitant to get their children vaccinated should talk with a healthcare professional.
“There’s children that are being regularly hospitalized with COVID,” he said. “We are just probably starting to see the outcomes of social gatherings, the community events people have engaged in since the Fourth of July, and we'll continue to see those increase. ... By that time we have kids in school, we'll have had increased mixing even further, which unfortunately may lead to an increase in overall cases again.”
Children’s Minnesota does not have a vaccine mandate in place.
“We have been meeting with the CEOs of local health care organizations and discussing a unified approach to ensuring the safety of all patients in our care," a spokesperson told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. "While we have no current mandate, we are actively listening and weighing the concerns of our patients and families.”
Last week, Minnesota's largest health care provider, Mayo Clinic, announced it would require all employees to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 1 or complete "education modules." Several colleges are now instituting vaccine mandates for on-campus students and staff, and First Avenue and all of its affiliated venues will require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test for entry.
Federal law allows vaccine exemptions for people with an underlying medical condition or sincerely held religious beliefs.
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