All Major Cincinnati Hospitals to Require COVID-19 Vaccine for Employees, Volunteers, Contractors

The requirement will be enacted in all of the hospitals by fall, representatives said Thursday.

click to enlarge Mark Clement, president and CEO of TriHealth, on Aug. 5, 2021 - PHOTO: VIDEO STILL
Photo: video still
Mark Clement, president and CEO of TriHealth, on Aug. 5, 2021

The staff at Cincinnati-area hospitals soon will do more than treat COVID-19 — they'll take additional measures to prevent its spread in the first place.

During a news conference Thursday, Greater Cincinnati's six largest hospital systems jointly announced that with the highly transmissible Delta variant spreading throughout Ohio and Kentucky, they would require their employees, providers, contractors and volunteers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, beginning this fall.

Representatives from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, The Christ Hospital, TriHealth, UC Health, St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Bon Secours Mercy Health are among the region's largest employers, with thousands among their workforces. During the Aug. 5 gathering, leaders said that protecting their workforce while serving the community was paramount.

"Safety really is our foundational responsibility," said Michael Fisher, president and CEO of Cincinnati Children's. "Each of our institutions has independently and individually made the decision to require the COVID-19 vaccination for everyone who works or volunteers in our systems."

Cincinnati Children's, Christ Hospital and St. Elizabeth will require vaccination by Oct. 1. UC Health and TriHealth are looking at early October, and Bon Secours Mercy says its requirement will be in place sometime this fall. There will be exceptions for medical reasons and strict religious beliefs, hospital leaders said.

Thursday's news conference took place in the same Christ Hospital conference room where the leaders originally came together in March 2020 to share information and make COVID-19 plans, they said.

Mark Clement, president and CEO of TriHealth, mentioned that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky recently said the Delta variant "is one of the most transmissible viruses that we know about" and that every state in the nation has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. 

"Unlike previous surges and waves of this once-in-a-century global pandemic, this fourth wave is a pandemic of the unvaccinated and sadly, a pandemic on the part of those who are unable to be vaccinated, including our children," Clement said. "Unfortunately, healthcare workers are not immune from this virus, and many of our institutions in recent weeks as a result of this highly contagious, transmissible variant have seen an uptick in our own team members and our own workforce becoming infected, being quarantined, and being unable to care for our patients. And in some cases, that's two- to three-times week-over-week increases."

Clement added that both the American Hospital Association and the Ohio Hospital Association have strongly recommended COVID-19 vaccine requirements for healthcare providers and employers.

Cincinnati's hospital systems also will return to COVID safety protocols from earlier in the pandemic: mask requirements for both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals within healthcare facilities and support areas plus social distancing.

Health officials have long said that a combination of vaccinations and masking will help slow the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus. In July, the CDC recommended that both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals wear face masks, especially indoors and in regions of great virus transmission or low vaccination (the CDC labels most counties in the Cincinnati area as "substantial" or "high" risk).

The federal agency also urged all K-12 schools to require masking for students, employees and visitors, regardless of whether they've received an authorized COVID-19 vaccine or not (Cincinnati Public Schools announced this week that it would require masking indoors).

The Delta variant of the coronavirus largely has been responsible for the sharp uptick in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, and scientists warn that this strain is much more dangerous than Alpha, the original virus. People infected with Delta carry 1,000 times more of the virus, which makes it easier to transmit among others when speaking, singing, sneezing or breathing hard, particularly within indoor areas. Health experts say that Delta is more than twice as easy to spread than Alpha.

Unvaccinated individuals are at the highest risk for severe infection and substantial health issues from coronavirus, experts say, though some vaccinated individuals have also become infected due to Delta's highly contagious nature. Symptoms and rates are less severe in individuals who are fully vaccinated with a Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, though. According to the CDC, a “fully vaccinated” person is one who is two weeks past their second dose of a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna) or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine (J&J).

Not all individuals are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, though, which concerns health officials. During Thursday's event, hospital leaders repeatedly mentioned employee vaccinations and masking as a way to protect children, who are unable to be vaccinated if they are ages 11 and under. The contagious virus also is a danger to people with weakened immune systems, including those with cancer or respiratory issues.

"Requiring the COVID-19 vaccination for all of our healthcare providers and staff is the responsible thing to do. not only to protect our patients, their families and our workforce but also our community as a whole and especially, certainly from my perspective, kids who aren't yet eligible for vaccinations," Fisher said.

All of Cincinnati's hospital leaders stressed vaccination as a way to end the coronavirus pandemic, saying that Delta's high transmissibility would otherwise continue to cycle through the population. 

"The development of the COVID-19 vaccine has just been a remarkable feat of science and collaboration. Extensive data gathered from around the world proves that these vaccines work. They save lives, and they reduce the risk of serious illness and hospitalization," said Rick Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health. "The science tells us that masking and vaccinations work. They're very effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, and frankly, the emergence of other variants as we move forward."

As of 10 a.m. Aug. 6, more than 67% of counties within the United States were listed as "high risk" on the CDC's tracker. In Hamilton County, which was labeled as having "substantial risk," the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths have been sharply rising since the beginning of July. Here, 52% of the total population has received at least one dose of an authorized COVID-19 vaccine, while 49.9% are fully vaccinated.

Walensky, the CDC director, noted recently that the nation's overall low vaccination rates enabled the Delta variant in the first place. Vaccine administration for all age groups has plateaued in many states, with more people gathering both indoors and outdoors without masks.

"This could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country," she said.

No vaccine is 100% effective, but according to Yale University, the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccines are about 95%, 94% and 72% effective, respectively. Experts say that the vaccines largely lessen the effects of COVID-19 and its variants, including Delta.

"In science lives hope," Lofgren said.


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