A coalition of medical organizations on Tuesday called on health care facilities to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for employees.
"Prior experience and current information suggest that a sufficient vaccination rate is unlikely to be achieved without making COVID-19 vaccination a condition of employment," the statement from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA), the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and five other leading organizations stated.
The groups noted that making even routine vaccinations mandatory, like the annual influenza shot, helped to increase vaccination rates. Prior to the pandemic, compliance rose to 94.4 percent compared to 69.6 percent in organizations without a requirement.
The statement and accompanying guidelines come as the U.S. vaccination rate has hit a wall, and a debate is raging about how to get more people the life-saving shot.
Some hospital systems are requiring employees get the vaccines as a condition of employment, while many others have no interest in a requirement. Still others are waiting until the three available vaccines receive full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which could be months away.
Experts believe it is easier for certain industries to mandate vaccinations over others, especially in health care.
But on the flip side, they will also need to be prepared for the fallout, especially if a large proportion of the staff refuses to be vaccinated.
For example, Houston Methodist terminated or accepted the resignations of 153 workers after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit over its mandatory vaccination policy. It was one of the first hospital systems in the nation to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The Biden administration has largely shied away from enforcing vaccine mandates among federal employees or among military forces. So far, the White House has stayed out of what they view as an issue for private employers.
The issue has also become highly politicized. Many Republican governors have banned mandates in any form, including from private employers, emphasizing that vaccination is a personal choice.
In addition, well-funded anti-vaccination groups are eager to challenge any kind of vaccine requirement.
But the nation's top infectious disease doctor Anthony Fauci on Sunday said he believes there should be more mandates at the local level, calling it a matter of "life and death."
The statement from the health groups explains what to consider in developing a policy of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment, including a thorough overview of current vaccines’ safety and efficacy, legal considerations, ways to engage stakeholders and improve vaccination rates before making it mandatory, and advantages to having a fully vaccinated workforce.
“Vaccinating the healthcare workforce reduces the risk of transmission by protecting patients, healthcare personnel, and communities, and maintains trust in healthcare providers and healthcare institutions,” said David Weber, a member of the SHEA Board of Trustees and lead author of the statement.