Frederick Health system, which has been in the forefront of the battle against the COVID-19 virus in our community, is being flexible with its employees concerning the need to be vaccinated against the virus.
The health care system announced this week that it will require all new employees, medical staff members and volunteers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, starting in August.
However, current staff members, including those who have medical or religious exemptions or are waiting full federal approval to the vaccines, will be allowed to continue working with certain conditions.
Any employee not vaccinated by Sept. 1 will be required to follow what the system calls “enhanced infection control procedures,” including wearing a mask, following social distancing guidelines and providing a negative COVID-19 test result to their supervisor every two weeks.
It is no more unusual for a hospital or medical facility to require staff to take the vaccine than it is for them to undergo annual tests for tuberculosis. It is just part of the deal.
Frederick Health officials said that as of Tuesday, about 73 percent of the system’s 3,700 employees were fully vaccinated. That’s great, but it still leaves almost one in four staff members unvaccinated.
That can be a worrisome number for patients who want to be protected from the virus but may not be for many reasons. Some have received the vaccine but have developed antibodies because they are undergoing some medical treatment. Others are immunocompromised and are unable to take the vaccine. They are at the mercy of all of the rest of us.
Since they are already battling illness, they have a higher than average chance of showing up to the hospital. If they do, they may worry that the doctor, nurse or technician taking care of them has not been vaccinated.
Some of Maryland’s largest hospitals and health systems announced last week that their employees would be required to be vaccinated by the fall as a “condition of employment.”
The news website DCist reported that the University of Maryland Medical System plans to fully mandate the shots when coronavirus vaccines are given full approval by the Food and Drug Administration, rather than the current emergency use authorization.
On June 9, the Maryland Hospital Association — which advocates for Maryland’s 60 nonprofit hospitals and health systems — announced that its members had each agreed to set a date after which vaccination against COVID-19 would be mandatory.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in May that employers could require their employees to get vaccinated, so long as they made “reasonable accommodations” for workers who didn’t get the shot because of religious beliefs, a disability or pregnancy.
Frederick Health rolled out its COVID-19 testing program early last year, and it has been working hard to get as many people in our community vaccinated as possible, aggressively promoting its program that began in mid-December.
Officials know well that the vaccine must be widely adopted if society is to be successful in defeating the virus. As Tom Kleinhanzl, FHH president and CEO, said in a release: “Vaccines are the best tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help bring a swift end to this pandemic.”
The health system is going to have to continue to work hard to convince as many of its employees as possible agree to take the vaccine. At some point it may be necessary to make it a condition of employment for almost everyone who must interact with patients.
As the system’s president correctly stated in his news release: “Frederick Health’s highest obligation is to the safety, health, and welfare of our most vulnerable patients.”