GRAND RAPIDS — Spectrum Health will require COVID-19 vaccinations of employees, students, volunteers and contractors, although not until the vaccines are fully approved by federal regulators.
Once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully authorizes the vaccines, which are now available under emergency authorizations granted late last year and early this year, the Grand Rapids-based health system will require various personnel to get vaccinated within eight weeks. Spectrum Health, with 14 hospitals and more than 31,000 employees, will allow exceptions that are permitted under the law.
“Spectrum Health may decide to act more quickly if it sees a risk to team members and public health as a result of the delta variant, or subsequent variants, based on data in our local communities,” Spectrum Health said in a statement today.
Pfizer Inc. applied to the FDA in early May for full authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna Inc. followed suit on June 1, while an application from Johnson & Johnson is pending.
It may take months for the FDA to issue full authorization.
Some health systems have decided to require employees, medical staff, volunteers and contractors to get vaccinated or face termination, including Trinity Health, the parent corporation of Mercy Health in West Michigan, and Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System.
Ascension Health, the parent company of Ascension Borgess in Kalamazoo, said today it was requiring employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 12, a time that coincides with a requirement to get an annual flu vaccine. The mandate includes all employees of subsidiaries and partners, employed and independent physicians and advanced practitioners, volunteers and vendors entering all Ascension facilities.
The American Hospital Association last week adopted a policy statement that supports hospitals and health systems that mandate a COVID-19 vaccine with exceptions allowed under federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines.
“To protect all patients, communities and personnel from the known and substantial risks of COVID-19, the American Hospital Association strongly urges the vaccination of all health care personnel,” according to the policy statement. “COVID-19 vaccines protect health care personnel when working both in health care facilities and in the community. They provide strong protection against workers unintentionally carrying the disease to work and spreading it to patients and peers.”
In requiring a vaccine once they are fully authorized by the FDA, Spectrum Health said it is following “scientific evidence and clinical results (that) point to the effectiveness of the vaccine.”
“We continue to see the benefits of the vaccine — both among our patients and teams. Almost all people who contract COVID-19 and need hospitalization or die from the virus are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Liam Sullivan, infectious disease specialist at Spectrum Health. “The delta variant of COVID-19 is causing significant increases in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in areas across the country where vaccination rates are low. We encourage people to be vaccinated, in consultation with their physician’s advice.”
As of Tuesday, 63.2 percent of Michigan’s 8 million residents 16 years and older had received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to a state dashboard.
Since the pandemic began, 19,902 people in Michigan have died from COVID-19. The state added 19 deaths on Tuesday.
Michigan has had 901,683 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, an increase of 1,762 cases in the previous four days.