Houston Hospital Is First Among Peers to Require Staff Vaccines

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The Houston Methodist hospital system in Texas will soon require its 26,000 employees get the Covid-19 vaccine, in what a spokeswoman said appears to be the first such move by a large U.S. hospital system.

The development was shared in an email Chief Executive Officer Marc Boom sent to managers on Wednesday. It gave them until mid-April to get “at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine or get an approved exemption.” No deadline for all employees was given in the email.

About 95% of management and all executives have received vaccines to date, compared with about 83% of employees, including everyone from doctors and nurses to cafeteria workers, according to Boom’s email. Religious and medical exemptions will be allowed in “very rare cases,” according to a document outlining frequently asked questions that was linked in the email.

“As part of Houston Methodist management, we must lead by example and get vaccinated ourselves,” Boom wrote. “Thank you for getting vaccinated and thank you for leading your staff to make the right decision to help protect our patients.”

Whether to mandate coronavirus shots is a question a broad swathe of employers are grappling with. Houston Methodist’s move comes at a time when experts say it’s not clear whether Covid-19 vaccines can, or should, be mandated. A central issue is that the shots now available have only received emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and not a standard approval, a lengthier and more comprehensive process.

Full Approval

Nancy Foster, the American Hospital Association’s vice president of quality and patient safety policy, said that while hospitals and health systems are recommending vaccines for both their staff and the public, most will likely wait to decide about making it mandatory until the vaccines “receive full approval from the FDA, which has not happened yet.”

Amy Rose, a Houston Methodist spokeswoman, said that employment laws at both the state and federal level allow private institutions to mandate vaccines, and don’t make distinctions around those that have been approved versus authorized on an emergency basis.

In the Wednesday email, Boom asked managers to start talking about the vaccine with staffers, and said they would receive a list of employees who were not yet immunized shortly. Houston Methodist has already made the shots compulsory for new employees.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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