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Nemours joins vaccine mandate push

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Nemours Children’s Health System became the third health system in the state to mandate vaccines for employees as more employers consider the requirement amid a downturn in the pandemic. | PHOTO COURTESY OF NEMOURS

Nemours Children’s Health System became the third health system in Delaware to require its employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination as the spread of the delta variant increases, while both the University of Delaware and Delaware State University also announced mask mandates for students next semester in addition to vaccinations.

Nemours, which employs more than 4,000 in the state primarily at its Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware, formerly known as Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, said the mandate for all employees, remote workers, contractors, students, temporary and volunteers begins Sept. 1. All second doses must be received by Oct. 6.

“As we face the challenges of a troubling resurgence of COVID-19 across the nation, we need to do everything we can to keep our pediatric patients and associates safe,” said Dr. Maureen Leffler, chief wellness officer for Nemours Children’s Health System, in announcing the policy Aug. 6. “Especially given that all children under 12 years of age are still ineligible for vaccination, the best way to protect our patient families, and to save lives in the communities we serve, is through vaccination of those who are eligible.”

Trinity Health, which operates St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, was the first in Delaware to mandate vaccinations for employees, and among the earliest adopters of the policy nationwide.

Nemours made its announcement just days after ChristianaCare, the state’s largest health care system and private employer with more than 12,000 employees, became Delaware’s biggest proponent of the increasingly controversial move. A rally by the public and some ChristianaCare employees against the health system’s mandate drew several hundred people Aug. 7.

Dr. Ken Silverstein | PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTIANACARE

In reaction to the protest, Ken Silverstein, chief physician executive 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.”

On Monday, 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.”

Delaware’s other major health systems – Bayhealth, Beebe, and TidalHealth – have not mandated vaccinations, although some have said they are reviewing the policy should the U.S. Food & Drug Administration grant full approval to a vaccine. That move could reportedly come as early as September.

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,” Leffler, of Nemours, added.  “The science is clear — the vaccines are saving lives.”

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

Gov. John Carney has said recently that he is weighing a mandate for state employees but noted that contracts with some unions could make enforcement of a vaccinate-or-terminate mandate difficult.

“We have public health powers that apply in some circumstances but not others, and we have employee relationships that are subject to collective bargaining and contractual obligations. So, it’s a little more complicated depending on what employee group you’re talking about,” Carney said during an Aug. 5 press conference.

The state government is the largest employer in Delaware, with 32,600 employees, according to Delaware Business Times records.

“The biggest complaint I hear [from employers] is not being able to find enough employees for the jobs they have, and that’s extremely relevant when it comes to our correctional officers … we do not want to make that worse by doing something that may be unnecessary at one level and we might be able to do in a different way,” Carney said.

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