The first major hospital system to introduce vaccine mandate was the Houston Methodist Hospital system in Texas back in March 31. The hospital's decision was met with backlash from employees, and 117 filed a joint lawsuit against the hospital. But the lawsuit was dismissed and more than 100 employees lost their job. (Related: Over 100 Houston Methodist Hospital employees sue over covid vaccine "mandate.")
Meanwhile, one of the latest to require COVID-19 vaccination for employees is Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare – a Memphis-based health system with 13,000 employees. It said on Aug. 9 that it is requiring all of its employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31. The requirement applies to employees across hospital and outpatient locations in West Tennessee and North Mississippi.
Healthcare unions have spoken up against vaccine mandates. "We have a right to bargain over a new work rule," said Debbie White, president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees – New Jersey's largest healthcare union. Most union contracts will prevent employers from imposing mandates without negotiating.
After the New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City gave all of its employees until Sept. 1 to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be terminated, the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East union announced that it would oppose vaccine mandates. 1199SEIU is composed of more than 450,000 members across six states and the District of Columbia.
"We are not in agreement with a mandate of the COVID-19 vaccine," George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU, said in a statement. "We agree that vaccination is an important tool to help us move forward, but mandating vaccination is not, nor will it ever, be the answer." (Related: Influential American Postal Workers Union opposes federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate.)
While it is federally legal for employers to demand that their staff get vaccinated, individual states can pass laws banning vaccine mandates in the workplace. Some states already have.
Ten states have enacted laws with prohibitions on vaccine mandates with Arizona and Arkansas each enacting two. Some were introduced back in February and March and the most recent took effect in late June. The other states that have enacted laws prohibiting vaccine mandates on different sectors were Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Utah
Some of the laws are tied only to vaccinations that have emergency use authorization, so the prohibition will no longer apply if the COVID-19 vaccines get full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some apply only to state and local governments. Meaning, private schools and employers in those states can still pass vaccine mandates.
Ohio is one of the states that prohibits both private and public entities from requiring an individual to receive a vaccine for which the FDA has not granted full approval. But it didn't deter Summa Health in Cleveland, Ohio from requiring all of its employees to get their final COVID-19 vaccine dose two weeks before Oct. 31. The health system said on Aug. 5 that those who refuse will be disciplined or fired and those who receive medical or religious exemptions will be asked to wear a mask.
Premier Health, Kettering Health and Dayton Children's in Dayton, Ohio have also required COVID-19 vaccines for all employees.
Dayton Children's was the first locally to announce a vaccine mandate for its workers, setting an Oct. 1 deadline for its employees to become fully vaccinated; Kettering Health has required employees, medical staff, students, volunteers and vendors conducting business in their facilities to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4; and Premier Health has set a Dec. 1 deadline for its employees to be fully vaccinated.
Montana offered more resistance as state legislators blocked an attempt by Benefis Health System to put a vaccine mandate in place last April. Montana's Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a law that "prohibits discrimination based on vaccination status."
This includes prohibiting an employer to refuse employment to a person, barring a person from employment or discriminating against a person in compensation or in a term, condition or privilege of employment.
The law sponsored by Montana's Republican Rep. Jennifer Carlson also states that "an individual may not be required to receive any vaccine whose use is allowed under an emergency use authorization or any vaccine undergoing safety trials."
California went the opposite route. The state's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on July 26 that all state healthcare workers would either have to get vaccinated or be subjected to regular testing to keep their jobs.
In line with Newsom's announcement, the California Department of Public Health issued an order on Aug. 5 requiring healthcare workers to be vaccinated.
The order applies to workers in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, ambulatory surgery centers and in most other healthcare settings. Workers who do not qualify for a medical or religious exemption need to receive their second dose by Sept. 30. Unvaccinated exempt workers must meet testing and safety requirements.
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