More and more hospitals have made the decision to require vaccinations for their associates, and on Tuesday, OhioHealth became the latest to join that growing list. OhioHealth, which represents one of the largest employers in Delaware, has issued a Dec. 1 deadline for all associates, providers, and volunteers to be fully vaccinated.
Associates and providers who do not comply with the mandate will be required to get tested on a regular basis for COVID-19 and wear a mask in all OhioHealth facilities, including Grady Memorial Hospital in Delaware, regardless of current mask policies.
In a press release announcing the decision, the health system said, “OhioHealth announced today that it will require the COVID-19 vaccine for all its 35,000 associates, providers, and volunteers. This requirement extends to both employed and independent physicians, to those in patient-facing and non-patient-facing roles, and to students and vendors. The deadline to become fully vaccinated is December 1.
“OhioHealth’s decision to require the COVID-19 vaccine falls in line with other health systems in Ohio and more than 50 health systems in the U.S. that are now requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for caregivers and staff. This healthcare vaccination requirement has been endorsed by more than 60 medical associations and societies nationwide.”
Dr. Amy Imm, the vice president of Quality and Patient Safety at OhioHealth, said in the release, “What we know for certain is that all three available vaccines are safe and effective in preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19. With the Delta variant surging in Ohio and across the nation, now is the appropriate time for us to take an additional step to protect our patients, ourselves, and each other.”
Dr. Joe Gastaldo, who serves as the medical director of infectious diseases at OhioHealth, told The Gazette the decision will add another element to what has always been at the forefront of everything OhioHealth does; keeping both patients and associates safe.
“The bedrock of what we do at OhioHealth is patient and associate safety,” Gastaldo said. “That is the bedrock of everything we do. When it comes to washing your hands before you see a patient, checks and balances when we give medications to people, and it also includes vaccines … When we want to provide patients with the safest possible environment, we have mandatory vaccines.”
Gastaldo said the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t the only vaccine required for associates, providers, and volunteers at OhioHealth. In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine, an annual flu vaccine is also required, as are those for Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Varicella upon employment.
Perhaps much of the apprehension from those who remain unvaccinated centers around the vaccines not yet being fully approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), although both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are nearing full clearance. Gastaldo said final approval of the COVID-19 vaccines is merely a formality anyhow given the nearly identical processes in which a vaccine is approved for emergency use and how it is granted full approval.
“On paper, if you look at the differences between FDA approval and FDA authorization under emergency use, it was very minimal,” Gastaldo said. “There’s not much of a difference between the two … The scientific integrity of the study and how it was done, there was no compromising at all. The way the vaccine studies were done is the exact same way as other vaccine studies.”
Gastaldo added, “The way the United States reviews vaccines is the gold standard of the world. No other country reviews vaccines the same way we do in a transparent way. That review process did not change whatsoever for these vaccines compared to previous vaccines.”
Both medical and religious exemptions may be granted to OhioHealth associates who meet certain criteria. Asked to detail who may meet the criteria for a medical exemption, Gastaldo said such exemptions will be “very few.”
“The CDC gives guidance on scenarios when people should not receive the vaccine. And the obvious one is having somebody with a known severe allergic reaction to a component in the vaccine,” he said. “Other than that, there really aren’t a lot of medical exemptions.”
Gastaldo said those with diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases can be vaccinated. He added that women who are pregnant can also be vaccinated, a discovery he said was “kinda new” following an advisory submitted by both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine earlier this week.
Moving forward, Gastaldo said it will be important to continue to educate those within the OhioHealth system on the vaccine, as he has tried to do in every aspect since the onset of the pandemic. However, he said equally as important as the conversation itself is the way in which the conversations are approached.
“People hear things on the news, they hear things on social media, and it’s confusing to know what’s fact and what’s fiction,” he said. “And if you have a concern that matters to you, you need to have a conversation or dialogue with somebody who knows what they’re talking about, but also somebody is going to speak to you in a non-judgemental way.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.