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Region's hospital networks vary in approach to employee COVID-19 vaccinations

Health care providers in the U.S. and region face the same question of whether to require employee COVID-19 vaccinations that other employers do. But the up-close and personal nature of health care work makes for a unique point of consideration that employers in other industries may not need to contemplate.

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ST. PAUL — Hospital networks in the region have come up with differing answers to the question of whether COVID-19 vaccines should be required for employees, with some strongly encouraging but not mandating vaccinations and at least one making them compulsory.

Hospital networks contacted for this story stressed that the vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But, at least for now, some said they won't be making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for employees.

"It is possible that the COVID-19 vaccine will become mandatory for employees at some point; however, right now we're focused on the mandatory Influenza vaccine and will address the issue of the COVID-19 vaccine at a later time," Allina Health spokesperson Tim Burke said in an email this week.

Health care providers in the U.S. and region face the same question of whether to require employee COVID-19 vaccinations that other employers do. But the up-close and personal nature of health care work makes for a unique point of consideration that employers in other industries may not need to contemplate.

Many hospitals already require employees to be vaccinated against more common diseases such as influenza. And some continued to require face masks and institute other coronavirus pandemic precautions even state and local restrictions were rolled back.

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Burke said about 70% Allina employees, who according to the company number more than 28,000, are vaccinated for COVID-19. Allina owns or otherwise operates 12 hospitals and dozens of health clinics across Minnesota and in Wisconsin, and according to Burke is encouraging employees to take the vaccine.

Essentia Health, whose facilities are spread throughout Minnesota and North Dakota, does not currently require employee COVID-19 vaccinations and could not immediately say what percentage of its employees have been vaccinated. The company employs approximately 13,800 people, according to its website.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Peter Henry said in a statement this week that the company is "currently working through processes that determine the vaccine status for each of our employees" that it is "critically important that all who can receive the vaccine do so, especially health care workers whose duty it is to protect the vulnerable."

As health care networks sort out their employee vaccination policies, the American Hospital Association on Thursday, July 22, issued an endorsement COVID-19 vaccination. That same day, Sanford Health, a major medical system with centers in Sioux Falls, Fargo and Bemidji, Minn., announced that it will require all employees to be vaccinated against the disease by November.

RELATED: Sanford Health to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees Nov. 1

The American Hospital Association's policy statement was published after Forum News Service initially contacted Allina and Essentia representatives. Reached for comment Thursday after it was released, spokespeople for both companies said their vaccines policies were unchanged.

In statements made to Forum News Service this week, Henry said the delta variant of COVID-19 "sheds additional light on the importance of receiving the vaccine." The variant is more transmissible than others and exhibits some resistance to the vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"While working through this process, we are evaluating all available options to ensure the safety of our patients and staff, and the communities we serve," Henry said.

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