Henry Ford Health System to require COVID-19 vaccine for all employees
Henry Ford Health System will mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for its 33,000 employees effective Sept. 10.
The Detroit-based health system is the first major health system in Michigan to require employees receive the vaccine. It joins at least 18 other health systems across the U.S. doing so.
The mandate announced Tuesday morning requires all employees, including medical students, volunteers and contractors, to be vaccinated or face termination.
There are narrow religious and medical exemptions that employees may seek. For example, to meet the religious exemption guidelines, an employee must demonstrate the mandate violates a deeply held religious belief against, say, certain chemicals in the vaccine. Some workers have sought an exemption from vaccines that use fetal cells to grow the dormant virus. However, none of the COVID-19 vaccines use human cells like some other vaccines, such as for chickenpox, hepatitis A and rabies.
“We acknowledge the magnitude of this decision and we did not make it lightly,” Henry Ford Health System President and CEO Wright Lassiter III said in a statement. “As a leader and trusted voice in our communities, our patients and members depend on us to create a safe, healthy environment. We owe that same promise to our team members. Safety and infection prevention are everyone’s responsibility.”
Henry Ford Health started offering the Pfizer vaccine to employees on Dec. 17, 2020, and as of today, approximately 68 percent, or 23,000, employees are fully vaccinated. That leaves about 10,000 employees who still need to be vaccinated ahead of the Sept. 10 deadline. COVID-19 vaccinations are still readily available through employee health clinics, but workers can also be vaccinated outside the health system, Henry Ford said.
The decision to require a COVID-19 vaccination is consistent with existing vaccination policy at Henry Ford. Employees are required to get a flu shot every year and stay current with other vaccinations like measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough.
Houston Methodist was the first health system to mandate the vaccine, announcing on April 1 that all employees must be inoculated by June 7. The hospital suspended 178 workers who did not comply. A lawsuit ensued but was quickly tossed by a federal court judge in Texas. Employers have legal standing on mandating the vaccine and most health systems mandate other vaccines, such as the flu vaccine.
Houston Methodist terminated or accepted the resignation of 153 employees over the vaccine mandate.
The labor shortage among health workers remains a sticking point for a mandate in Michigan.
Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, told Crain’s earlier this month that shortages in staffing, such as nurses, medical assistants and lab employees, are already crippling hospital operations across the state and a mandate could exacerbate the issue.
“CEOs are fearful of implementing a vaccine at this time as it could push some of their critical care staffers out of the system and they can’t afford to do that right now,” Peters said earlier.
But the needle has barely moved for Henry Ford, which went from 67% of staff vaccinated on June 1 to just 68% on Tuesday. In Michigan, 61.4% of people ages 16 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Bob Riney, president of hospital operations and COO for Henry Ford, told Crain’s earlier this month that a mandate wouldn’t be swayed by labor concerns.
“The workforce shortages weigh gravely on our minds regardless of the vaccination issue,” Riney said. “It’s hard to recruit and retain talent in certain areas, yes, but it wouldn’t get in the way of doing something we decided was the right thing to do. We can’t not do what is in the right interest of our team members and those we serve over our inability to staff.”
Other health systems, including Beaumont Health, Michigan Medicine and Detroit Medical Center, said they were unlikely to mandate a vaccine before full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccines. As of now, all of the COVID-19 vaccines are approved under Emergency Use Authorization. Pfizer and Moderna have applied for full approval from the FDA and a decision on both is expected in the fall. Johnson & Johnson has not yet.
Vaccinations are credited with the sharp decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases across the state. Between June 25-28, the state confirmed just 20 cases and 318 patients hospitalized with a confirmed or probable case — the lowest totals since the first surge in April 2020.
There are 22 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across Henry Ford’s six hospitals.
Concerns over the delta variant of the coronavirus is becoming more prevalent across the U.S. and Michigan.
As of June 24, the variant, which is the most deadly and contagious version of the virus to date, has been identified in eight Michigan counties with 32 cases. Across the U.S., it’s become the dominant variant, representing more than 20 percent of all new COVID-19 cases.
Still, the vaccines are proving effective at preventing illness from the variant. Research suggests two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are about 88 percent effective against the variant. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine effectiveness is estimated at 60 percent.
The variant leaves “hospitals vulnerable to potential future surges,” Henry Ford Health System said in a news release.
“We have consistently advocated for vaccination as the best path forward for all of us,” Riney said in the news release. “But for vaccinations to truly make a deep and lasting impact on this pandemic, we need everyone in this fight. There is no greater compassion we can show each other than to be vigilant about safety and preventing the spread of this devastating disease.”