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As a new strain of coronavirus (covid-19) sweeps through the world, stay up-to-date on the latest preparedness plans, school closings, changed polling locations, and more in the Tri-State.

Why Local Hospitals Are Not Requiring Employees Get The COVID-19 Vaccine

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Courtesy of UC Health
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Katie Walz, RN, in the cardiovascular ICU at UC Medical Center, became the first recipient of Pfizer's COVID vaccine in Cincinnati in December 2020.

It's been over a month since the COVID-19 vaccine rolled out for health care workers and other vulnerable members of the community. Experts have proved the vaccines are safe through testing and human trials. But hospitals are not requiring workers to get vaccinated.

The FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization to the coronavirus vaccines in December, which allows for the vaccines to enter the market earlier than they'd otherwise be approved. It also demands providers continue monitoring the effects of the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control say hospital employees are not required by Ohio to get vaccines, and that hospitals can make their own mandates.  

Richard P. Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health, said the vaccine isn't currently required at his hospital because of the EUA designation.

"Once the vaccine becomes really, very established and FDA approved, and it becomes part of the way in which we do business, it may … fall into the exact same category as some of our other immunizations that are required for health care workers," he said during a press conference earlier this month.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says employers can require workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but that is not mandated and employers must still adhere to nondiscriminatory exceptions.

In the Cincinnati area, other hospitals are also not requiring workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine, citing similar reasons.

WVXU reached out to St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, TriHealth and the Cincinnati VA Hospital about their COVID-19 vaccine procedures, but did not receive responses by press time.

The Christ Hospital Health Network and Mercy Health both released statements saying hospital employees are not required to take the vaccine.

"We are not mandating the COVID-19 vaccine in our network as it is currently under Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA,” said Bo McMillan, senior coordinator at The Christ Hospital Health Network.“However, safety and efficacy data behind the vaccine is incredible and we are strongly encouraging our team members to receive it and have been encouraged by the participation by our physicians, nurses and staff."

Nanette Bentley, group PR director at Bon Secours Mercy Health, said while Mercy Health requires its employees to have a flu vaccine each year, "like the majority of the other health systems operating in Cincinnati," it is also not requiring the vaccine to be administered to workers.

State health officials have not returned multiple requests for comment about how many health care workers in the state have refused the vaccine. But Governor Mike DeWine said as many as 60% of nursing home staff in the state declined the vaccine when it was first offered to them. Local officials say that number has likely declined, saying some workers accepted the vaccine when it was offered a second time.