Ascension mandates COVID-19 vaccines; AMA supports

Ascension mandates COVID-19 vaccines; AMA supports

Ascension, the parent company of Ascension Via Christi, on July 27 announced it would require all of its associates to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 12.

This includes everyone, whether or not they provide direct patient care, and whether they work in person or remotely. Ascension said the mandate includes associates employed by subsidiaries and partners; physicians and advanced practice providers (employed or independent); and volunteers and vendors entering Ascension facilities.

“Together, we will put this pandemic behind us so that we can continue to focus on meeting the needs of those who come to us for care,” Ascension wrote in its announcement.

The timing is aligned with Ascension’s annual influenza vaccination requirement and will follow a similar implementation process. Tens of thousands of Ascension associates already have been vaccinated, officials said.

The company joins other high-profile employers such as Tyson Foods, Microsoft, Google and Disney, which announced recently they also would mandate vaccines for most employees.

The American Medical Association is among more than 50 professional academies and associations calling for all health care and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” AMA officials said. “This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being.”

Other supporters include the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Association of American Medical Colleges.

At this time, HCA, the parent company of Wesley Healthcare, has not indicated it will follow suit. But CMO Lowell Ebersole, DO, has said that 99% of Wesley’s medical staff is vaccinated.

Meanwhile, some local physicians are encouraging all health care workers to get vaccinated.

“We, the physicians of Infectious Disease Consultants, join with the growing number of organizations throughout the country in calling for the universal vaccination of all health care workers,” the group wrote in a recent editorial column in The Wichita Eagle. “Vaccination of all eligible persons is the number one best strategy we have at this point to control and defeat this pandemic. Health care organizations have an obligation to provide a safe work environment for their employees and patients, and health care workers have an obligation to protect their patients with whom care is entrusted.”

The Cancer Center of Kansas reported it is requiring all their unvaccinated employees to get tested every week.

The call for vaccine mandates among health care workers is aligned with national statistics that show many medical workers remain unvaccinated.

The rate of vaccination is pretty much the inverse of the education level of staff, Forbes reported. Among practicing physicians, 96% have been vaccinated, according to an AMA study. The rate drops to less than 50% among nurses and even lower among aides, especially in nursing homes, according to Forbes.

“Health care workers are not a monolith,” explained frontline physician Chloe Steinshouer, MD, ICU medical director at Wesley Medical Center, in a recent Facebook post about health care workers who haven’t been vaccinated.

“Vaccine uptake is highest in the highest education groups (physicians, pharmacy and APPs) and trends down with level of education,” Steinshouer said.

“Support staff outnumber direct patient care workers in a hospital and are vital to making the systems run, but they also have a significantly lower vaccination rate. Add in personal philosophy and bias (happens in health care workers just like everyone else) and your health care systems will mirror your community.”