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UnityPoint Health now requiring all staff be vaccinated against COVID-19
All 33,000 employees, even those not providing direct patient care, have until Nov. 1
UnityPoint Health, one of the largest health care providers in Iowa, announced Thursday that its 33,000 employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by November or face being out of a job.
UnityPoint Health — which operates St. Luke’s Medical Center in Cedar Rapids and other facilities across Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin — now joins several other health care systems nationwide that recently made the decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations among their staffs.
Staff at MercyOne facilities across Iowa were required to obtain the shots after its parent company, Trinity Health, announced in early July that all its 117,000 employees nationwide must be inoculated by Sept. 21. That mandate includes hospitals and associated medical clinics at MercyOne Dubuque, MercyOne Dyersville, MercyOne Clinton, MercyOne North Iowa and MercyOne Western.
Additionally, staff at the VA Health Care System in Iowa City must be vaccinated, part of a directive from the Biden administration that staff at all Veterans Affairs health facilities nationwide be vaccinated.
The West Des Moines-based health system announced its employees — whether they provide direct patient care or not — be vaccinated by Nov. 1. Employees who choose not to be vaccinated will be subject to voluntary resignation or termination, UnityPoint Health officials said.
“We remain incredibly grateful to our health care providers, who have seen the devastation of COVID-19 up close and personal over the past 18 months,” Clay Holderman, president and chief executive officer of UnityPoint Health, said in a statement. “After thoughtful consideration, we believe this vaccination requirement will help keep our team members, patients and communities as healthy as possible, so we can focus on what we do best — delivering exceptional care to those we serve.”
A temporary deferral will be available to pregnant employees. UnityPoint Health staff can also request an exemption for medical or religious reasons, which the health system says is consistent with its policies around other required vaccines, such as the flu shot.
Last month, a spokeswoman said that UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids would not mandate the vaccine while it is under only emergency use authorization — and not final approval — by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Seventy-two percent of UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids employees had been vaccinated at that time, officials said.
But that was before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing a renewed surge fueled by the delta variant of the virus, issued new guidelines for mask use.
The new vaccine directives from health systems come as new cases, as well as hospitalizations and deaths, are swelling nationwide. Earlier this week, Iowa reported an average of 510 new cases every day over the last seven days — even higher than the average from a comparable period a year earlier before vaccines became available.
Data shows the hardest-hit states are those with the lowest vaccination rates overall. Vaccines are the best tools against COVID-19, and medical experts have warned the United States will see a continued spread of the virus if vaccination rates do not increase.
Major medical groups that represent millions of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals nationwide released a statement this past month calling for COVID-19 vaccine mandates for all health care staff and long-term care employees in the nation.
In a joint statement representing nearly 60 organizations that include the American Medical Association and the American Nursing Association, the group said all medical workers have an ethical commitment to put patients first “and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being.”
Free COVID-19 vaccines have been available to health care staff in Iowa since Dec. 14, 2020.
“The COVID vaccine is safe and effective in terms of preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death,” Dr. Dave Williams, UnityPoint Health chief clinical officer, said in a statement. “The continued wave of infections throughout the country make it clear we are not done fighting this pandemic, which means more people need to get vaccinated, especially before an anticipated increase of respiratory illnesses this fall.”
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