MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Health care systems that cover hospitals in many West Virginia communities announced vaccine mandates for workers Monday following final approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration.
The announcements, which include WVU Medicine and Mon Health System, came shortly after a statement from the West Virginia Hospital Association supporting vaccination mandates for workers.
WVHA President Jim Kaufman said despite the potential negative impact on the workforce the policy would keep healthcare workers and patients as safe as possible.
“We’re very concerned about the workforce, in fact that’s one of our biggest challenges,” Kaufman said. “At the same time we know that getting our healthcare teams vaccinated it will allow us to serve all West Virginians and protect our staff.”
WVU Medicine and Mon Health announced their workers must be vaccinated by Oct. 31. Another large system, CAMC, had yet to make a decision on mandatory vaccination for workers, according to CAMC spokesman Dale Witte.
WVU Medicine President and CEO Albert Wright said increasing case numbers of the Delta variant and the current surge in hospitalizations have forced them to take steps to stop the spread, improve outcomes and ensure that when members of the community need care there will be someone there to do it.
“It is critical that we have a workforce that’s able to come and take care of patients that depend on us and I believe and our leadership team believes the only way to do that is for our workforce to be vaccinated,” Wright said.
There are 16 hospitals in the WVU system including those located in Wheeling, Fairmont, Bridgeport, Parkersburg, Moundsville, Summersville, Martinsburg, Keyser and New Martinsville.
Mon Health Systems President and CEO David Goldberg said the vaccine is the best strategy to limit spread, improve outcomes and hopefully keep people out of the hospital.
“Reduce the threat of transmission, mitigate the spread and do our part to vaccinate our way out of this as we see rates increase here in West Virginia,” Goldberg said.
Active cases of the virus have ballooned more than 10,000 after being below 1,000 in early July. The state Department of Health and Human Resources added nearly 2,500 new cases over the weekend, increased the daily positivity rate to 11.44 percent and nearly half of the 55 counties in the state are red on the statewide coronavirus status map.
“The virus has really become endemic, which means COVID is everywhere now,” Wright said. “We’re not going to be able to stamp it out because we’re not going to see a shutdown of society or organizations, or full mask mandates again- the only way we’re going to get out of this is through vaccination.”
Vaccination exemptions will be offered for medical and religious reasons, but according to Goldberg this will be handled the way annual flu shots are among staff.
“We will provide testing to those who meet that exemption,” Goldberg said. “For those who don’t we’re going to do all we can to get them vaccinated, but we do expect our staff to be vaccinated like we’ve been doing with flu for years in the state.”