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Carney requires vaccination of Delaware health care workers

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Gov. John Carney announced Aug. 12 that key state employees, long-term care staff and acute and outpatient staff members will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo regular testing.

This measure, set to go into effect Sept. 30, applies for state employees in the executive branch, surgery facilities, hospice care, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and select group homes and more. It also applies to all hospitals in the state, even those who still have yet to make a decision on whether to require the vaccine. The policy will be finalized by the end of August, according to officials.

ChristianaCare Medical Assistant David Overton is vaccinated by
Assistant Nurse Manager Kristin Macey at Wilmington Hospital in December 2020. The health system is one of three to institute a vaccine mandate in Delaware. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTIANACARE

“There’s no better way to protect our most vulnerable neighbors from this virus than getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” Carney said in a prepared statement. “If you haven’t gotten your COVID-19 vaccine yet, consider it. Vaccination is how we’ll make sure our communities get healthier and continue to build a great future in our state.”

Carney made the announcement after three health systems, including ChristianaCare, the largest private employer in the state, mandated its employees receive the vaccine or face termination. St. Francis Hospital, managed by Trinity Health System, was the first to mandate vaccines for staff, while Nemours made an announcement in early August.

Combined, the three hospital groups have 17,750 employees, of which 70% work for ChristianaCare. The state government is the largest public employer in Delaware, with 32,600 employees, and this announcement would apply to roughly 14,000 of them.

Bayhealth, Beebe Healthcare and TidalHealth Nanticoke in Seaford have yet to make a final decision on vaccine mandates. The state’s measure would now require the combined 8,200 staff members at those three hospital systems to either be vaccinated to be routinely tested for COVID-19.

Vaccine mandates have become a controversial move, with a rally by the public and some ChristianaCare employees against the move drew several hundred people on Aug. 7 and smaller demonstrations continuing ever since.

In reaction to the protest, Ken Silverstein, chief physician officer at ChristianaCare, said the health system “did not make the decision about our vaccination policy lightly.” 

“The imminent danger posed by the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID has tipped the scales in our effort to balance the right to personal freedom with the right to having a safe workplace,” he said in a statement. “Our decision-making is based on the science and the facts about the vaccine.”

As the highly-contagious delta variant continues to spread throughout the country, Delaware has seen its COVID case count continue to rise at the end of July and early August. As of Aug. 11, the state reports there are 165 new cases and a seven-day positive case average of 20%. There are currently 103 people in the hospital with COVID.

The Delaware Healthcare Association, an industry association representing the state’s health systems, voiced its support for those that have mandated vaccinations.

“Widespread vaccination is an essential component to successfully controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said Wayne Smith, president and CEO of the DHA, in a statement. “We join other health associations and stand united in strongly urging all health care personnel to get the COVID-19 vaccination – a safe and effective vaccine that reduces the likelihood of infection, transmission, hospitalization, and death from the COVID-19 virus.”

Because the three major vaccines at the moment, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, are all OK’d by the FDA under emergency use authorization (EUA), many unvaccinated individuals continue to question their long-term side effects. Health experts note the extensive research done before and during the development of the drugs, and that more than 160 million have been fully vaccinated over the past eight months.

“The administration of nearly 350 million vaccine doses in the U.S. thus far has provided convincing data that vaccines are safe and highly effective in preventing COVID-19 infection and protecting vaccinated individuals against severe illness, hospitalization, and death,”  said Dr. Maureen Leffler, chief wellness officer for Nemours Children’s Health System. “The science is clear — the vaccines are saving lives.”

Meanwhile, UD and DSU recently announced that masks would be returning to all public indoor areas on their campuses regardless of vaccination status. Wilmington University announced a return of masks but has not mandated vaccinations as its larger higher education partners have done.

UD, DSU and Goldey-Beacom College previously announced that all students will be required to provide proof of vaccination to return to campus in just a few weeks. Any student claiming a medical or religious exemption from the mandate will be required to be tested weekly at UD or twice a week at DSU.

While federal courts and regulatory bodies have ruled that mandates for employees are legal, to date, no major employer in Delaware outside of health care and higher education has publicly announced such plans. 

Banking giant Capital One announced Aug. 11 that it was requiring vaccinations for anyone returning to its offices this fall, but stopped short of mandating them as a term of employment. Those who choose not to get vaccinated can work from home, the company said.

Frontier Airlines, which operates the state’s lone commercial passenger air service out of New Castle-Wilmington Airport, announced Aug. 6 that it will require all employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 1, potentially affecting a handful of employees in Delaware.

The state’s vaccine mandate does not apply to teachers, although Carney announced days earlier that masks will be required in all public and private schools by teachers, staff and students.

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