Employees at area hospitals need to get vaccinated within the next several months or face disciplinary action.
The University of Virginia Medical Center and Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital announced vaccination requirements Wednesday, the first organizations in the area to publicly do so. The announcements follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 and older and as cases surge locally and across the state.
All UVa employees must get the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Oct. 18, according to the news release. Anyone who is not fully vaccinated by Nov. 1 will face disciplinary action, including possible termination. So far, about 86% of the medical center employees are fully vaccinated, which does not include contractors, officials said Wednesday.
Martha Jefferson employees need to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
“As the community’s front-line defense against COVID-19, Sentara believes it has a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the health of its team members, patients, residents, and communities through a vaccination requirement,” the company said in a news release Wednesday.
Sentara employees were told Wednesday morning about the new requirement, which applies to affiliated physicians, volunteers, students, and others who work in and for the company, according to the release.
Other hospitals across the country have announced a similar requirement. Locally, Albemarle County employees and those in the city and county school divisions are required to become fully vaccinated or submit weekly proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
UVa officials said in a media briefing Wednesday that they plan to work with employees who have not elected to receive the vaccine yet to address their questions and concerns.
“We will work with them to understand what their hesitancy is,” said Reid Adams, the medical center’s chief medical officer, adding that some people have been hesitant because the vaccine wasn’t fully approved. “… So it’ll be a series of individual conversations to try to understand and work through the concerns people have. Now that it’s a requirement, it’ll be a conversation that everybody’s going to need to have.”
Previously, employees were expected to get the vaccine, Adams said. Under the new policy, employees can request an exemption from the requirement due to medical or religious reasons, according to the release.
The vaccine was previously authorized for emergency use; it did not have full FDA approval. Under that authorization, people had the option to accept or refuse the vaccine, according to the FDA’s website.
Wendy Horton, the chief executive officer for the medical center, said during the briefing that the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine was one of many factors that went into the decision to mandate the vaccine.
“Every week, multiple times a week, we have looked at what’s happening nationwide; we’ve looked at guidance from the CDC and many different organizations to help shape our policy decision,” Horton said. “I think it was one more aspect of a conversation and really weighing the evidence, along with where we are locally. What’s happening locally with our own vaccination rates, the patient population, and how we’re doing across the Commonwealth.”
On Wednesday, the Blue Ridge Health District reported 96 new cases of COVID-19, the highest single-day increase since the end of April. So far this month, the health district has added 1,102 new cases this month, the sixth-most of any month of the pandemic. Officials have said the more contagious delta variant is fueling the increase in cases, which hit record lows in June.
“We feel it’s a really important time to make this change with the delta variant and the information we know about the effectiveness of the vaccines,” Horton said.
Adams said the medical center has seen an increase in COVID-related hospitalizations but not as high as other parts of the state, which he attributes to the area’s high vaccination rate. So far, about 57.8% of people in the health district are fully vaccinated, with Albemarle County leading the way at 70.2%.
Since late June, all UVa employees were expected to get vaccinated or submit proof of a weekly negative COVID-19 test, and all newly hired employees had to be vaccinated. At the end of July, medical center officials said that about 75% of their employees were vaccinated.
For unvaccinated employees, the medical center is opening up more appointment slots at its vaccination clinic on Grounds, Horton said. Employees also can receive the vaccine elsewhere such as through area pharmacies, primary care doctors or the health district.