A coalition of leading medical groups is calling for all health care and long-term care workers to be forced to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in response to the recent surge of coronavirus cases.
Though more than 160 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all rising as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads among unvaccinated communities.
On July 16, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said 99.5% of recent U.S. coronavirus deaths were of unvaccinated people.
"Due to the recent COVID-19 surge and the availability of safe and effective vaccines, our health care organizations and societies advocate that all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine," the coalition of 56 health care associations said in a joint statement released Monday.
The coalition includes the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Nursing Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Surgeons and the American Public Health Association.
Requiring vaccination for employment 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 groups said.
Vaccine mandates are highly controversial and unpopular. A recent poll found that 71% of Americans oppose forcing people to take a COVID vaccine against their will while public health officials continue to suggest such mandates are necessary to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
Many health care workers remain unvaccinated despite having priority access to vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. According to one estimate by WebMD and Medscape Medical News, 1 in 4 hospital workers who have direct contact with patients had not received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of May. The Washington Post reported that more than 38% of nursing home workers were not fully vaccinated as of July 11, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data.
Unvaccinated health care workers risk spreading COVID to vulnerable patients, even patients who are vaccinated. While the vast majority of vaccinated people will suffer only mild symptoms if they contract the Delta variant, experts say some older Americans with weaker immune systems may not fully respond to the vaccines, putting them at risk of illness or death. A recent CDC investigation linked unvaccinated nursing home staff to a national increase in COVID infections and deaths at senior facilities.
Reasons given for vaccine hesitancy among health care workers are varied, but studies indicate there are concerns the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, which were developed in record time under the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed and granted emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.
While more than 338 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the U.S. and coronavirus cases have plummeted as a result, the FDA has yet to approve the vaccines. Physicians are calling on the FDA to hurry up and grant full approval to the vaccines, arguing the volume of vaccines safely administered with very rare instances of side effects have established enough data to show the vaccines are safe and effective. They hope that full FDA approval can convince some vaccine skeptics to get their shots and mitigate the risk of spreading COVID.
Even so, majorities of unvaccinated Americans say there is nothing that could convince them to get their shots. With celebrity endorsements, cash incentives, and other methods of persuasion appearing to have failed, calls for the private sector to enact vaccine mandates will only grow louder as communities begin to reintroduce coronavirus restrictions, citing too many unvaccinated people and too many COVID infections.