UNC, Duke Health among NC hospitals mandating COVID-19 vaccines for healthcare workers

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Several health care providers in North Carolina are now going to require all their employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

UNC Health alerted employees Thursday that they would have to be vaccinated by Tuesday, Sept. 21.

That includes anyone working at UNC Medical Center, UNC REX Healthcare, Chatham Hospital, Johnston Health, UNC Health Southeastern, UNC Rockingham Health Care, UNC Physicians Network Practices and UNC Health Shared Services locations that support those hospitals.

The North Carolina Healthcare Association (NCHA) commended the policy.

Atrium Health, Cone Health, Duke University Health System, Novant Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health agreed to similar mandates.

"Together and alongside the North Carolina Healthcare Association, we believe that a mandatory vaccine program is in the best interest of public health and is essential for the safety of our patients, teammates and communities," UNC Health CEO Wesley Burks said in the message to employees.

Burks said approximately 72 percent of UNC Health's employees were currently vaccinated.

Duke Health's deadline for employees is also Sept. 21.

Duke Executive Vice President William Fulkerson said 75 percent of its employees already have their shots.

He mentioned the Delta variant as a reason for the change in policy, given that it's highly contagious.

"Similar to our existing influenza vaccination policy, the COVID vaccine requirement aligns with our core value of 'caring for our patients, their loved ones and each other,'" he wrote in an email to staff.

According to the Charlotte ABC affiliate WSOC, Atrium Health is requiring their employees to be fully vaccinated by October 31, and Novant Health set its deadline for September 15.

"I am so grateful to our hospitals and health systems who have been tremendous partners as we've worked together to respond to the pandemic," NCDHHS Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a statement. "We owe an incredible debt of gratitude to our healthcare workforce who have selflessly given so much of themselves to protect and care for us and put us on a path to recovery. Thank you to the North Carolina Healthcare Association, and the health systems that are leading the way requiring vaccination for employees, for taking action to protect the health care workforce, their patients, our communities and the state. Vaccinations are our way out of the pandemic. Don't wait to vaccinate."

NCHA announced Thursday it approved of vaccination mandates for healthcare workers with the following statement:

"North Carolina's hospitals and health systems exist to improve and protect the health of our communities, which is why they place patient, visitor and team member health and safety at the heart of the care they provide. In keeping with that goal, the North Carolina Healthcare Association strongly supports hospital and health system policies that require all hospital employees and clinical team members to be vaccinated against COVID-19. NCHA recognizes that each hospital and health system is unique and encourages each to determine the appropriate time to implement a requirement. All hospitals should continue to require other infection control measures per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, such as wearing masks and other personal protective gear.
Our state's health systems and hospitals have seen first-hand how debilitating and deadly this disease can be. When the COVID-19 vaccines were first released, the NCHA and its members strongly encouraged all North Carolinians, including hospital and health system employees, to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In the months since, clinical data has shown the COVID-19 vaccines to be extraordinarily safe and effective, and our best tool to prevent the spread of the disease.
The evidence is clear - vaccination against COVID-19 has prevented people from becoming seriously ill, requiring hospitalization, or dying from the virus, as well as spreading it to others. To date, more than 4.7 million North Carolinians and more than 161 million Americans have been vaccinated with minimal side effects. Most concerning, however, is the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reporting that nearly 99% of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths during May and June were among people not fully vaccinated. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases as the delta variant becomes increasingly pervasive.
Protecting patients, visitors and healthcare personnel from COVID-19 continues to be of paramount importance. Hospital and health system employee vaccination against COVID-19 is vital to safely care for patients by protecting them from infection, and to mitigate the spread of the virus within healthcare facilities and among clinicians, patients and their families and friends."
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