Some Health Care Workers May Quit, Rather Than Get Vaccinated

Beverly Cantrell - September 15, 2021 10:16 am

Most health care workers in the United States will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 under a new White House directive, but some fear the ultimatum will drive those who have resisted immunization out of their jobs at a critical moment.

As infections rise and many hospitals report being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, President Joe Biden unveiled a six-point strategy to combat the pandemic. That plan includes extending a vaccine mandate to most health care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, covering 17 million workers nationwide.

“If you’re seeking care at a health facility, you should be able to know that the people treating you are vaccinated,” Biden said. “Simple. Straightforward. Period.”
Implementing that order might not be simple or straightforward, though. According to the National Academy for State Health Policy, 22 states already had mandates for health care workers in place, but states and facilities that instituted requirements have often been met with lawsuits, protests, and resignations.

Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, said his organization supports vaccine mandates for health care workers. Still, he urged the Biden administration to work with hospitals to develop “aggressive and creative strategies” to ensure they have sufficient staffing.

“As a practical matter, this policy may result in exacerbating the severe workforce shortage problems that currently exist,” Pollack said in a statement.

The surge of the delta variant has left many facilities struggling to fill shifts and care for patients, and concerns were already growing about frontline workers burning out. Earlier this month, the American Nurses Association urged the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the shortage of hospital staff a “national crisis.”

One hospital CEO told Bloomberg internal models estimated up to 15% of his nurses would quit if vaccines were mandated. Administrators determined that was more than they stood to lose to infections and quarantines, so they opted against the requirement, but Biden’s latest action might leave them with little choice.

A recent American Nurses Association survey found nearly 12% of nurses do not plan to get vaccinated, with most citing concerns about safety or doubts that immunization is necessary. More than two-thirds of respondents supported vaccine mandates for at least hospital workers who deal with the public.

“The same concerns you’ll find in the general population about lack of data showing the efficacy of the vaccine and concerns about long-term side effects can still be pervasive within parts of the medical community,” said Amber Reinhart, an expert on health communication at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Experts say mandates are likely to convince some workers to roll up their sleeves for shots, but others will walk away if they have other career options or feel deeply that this infringes on their liberty. That could lead to shortages of support staff in some facilities.


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