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By Emily Anthes for The New York Times
A group of nearly 60 major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, called on Monday for mandatory vaccination of health care workers. As the highly contagious Delta variant drives a new surge of coronavirus cases, vaccination is an ethical obligation for health care workers, the groups said in a joint statement.
The statement said that all health care and long-term care employers should require their workers to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. “This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being,” the statement said.
The document was signed by a wide array of professional associations, including those representing doctors, nurses, pharmacists and infectious disease experts. It said that exceptions could be made for the small subset of employees who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons.
In recent weeks, more hospitals and health care systems have announced that they would begin employees to be vaccinated. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that the mandates are legal, and many hospitals already require employees to get flu shots.
“Health care organizations rarely agree on anything, but this is one thing where they are speaking with one voice and unanimity,” said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who organized the joint statement. “I think that attests to the wide recognition that this is the right thing to do for this country.”
Although many health care workers have been eligible for vaccination since December, when the first shots were authorized, a significant number remain unvaccinated.
In New York, for instance, roughly 1 in 4 hospital workers have not yet been vaccinated, according to state data. Nationwide, just 58.7 percent of nursing home employees have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some health care workers have pushed back against vaccine requirements. A small group of employees sued Houston Methodist Hospital over its mandate. The suit was dismissed last month, and more than 150 workers at the hospital were fired or resigned over their refusal to be vaccinated.
Some employers have been reluctant to require the vaccines, which currently have an emergency use authorization, until they receive full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. That approval is expected, but could be months away.
But the joint statement noted that the Covid-19 vaccines have a good track record so far. “We know the vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe illness and death from Covid-19,” Dr. Susan R. Bailey, the immediate past president of the A.M.A., said in a statement.