Given the dramatic rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Florida and in anticipation of full FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccines before year-end, Baptist Health announced Tuesday that it will require full vaccination for its team members and professional staff by Nov. 15.
In keeping with the organization’s flu-shot policy, Baptist Health will grant exemptions for medical contraindications and sincerely held religious beliefs.
New variants have contributed to a 300% increase in hospitalizations — and, among Baptist Health patients, more than 90% of those hospitalized in recent weeks have been unvaccinated.
“While we respect personal choice, the aggressive rates of infection resulting from the Delta variant have made it necessary to take this step,” said Michael A. Mayo, president and CEO of Baptist Health.
“We have been considerate of those with deep concerns about receiving the vaccination,” Mayo continued. “But the time has come to provide a deadline. Consistent with our mission and core values, it is our ethical responsibility to do all we can to protect the health of our patients, team members and the communities we serve.”
“In our defense against new variants invading our region, vaccination is the most powerful tool we have,” said Dr. Timothy Groover, interim chief medical officer at Baptist. “The evidence strongly confirms that COVID-19 vaccination reduces hospitalizations, severity of illness and deaths. In order for us to care for the community, we must remain healthy ourselves.”
The decision to require COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers is supported by numerous medical organizations including the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, American College of Physicians and more.
“This is an extension of current infection control policy; we already require annual vaccination against flu,” said Dr. Vincy Samuel, system director for Employee Health at Baptist Health. “This year, we will offer COVID-19 vaccines at the same time as annual flu shots, so it will be easy for our team members to get both done at once.”
“With more than 12,500 employees, Baptist Health is the area’s largest private employer, and we feel an obligation to lead by example,” Samuel added. “Given the fact that North Florida is considered an ‘area of substantial or high transmission,’ we have to do it all — vaccination, physical distancing, hand hygiene and masking — to truly protect ourselves and others.”
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