By Terri Jo Neff
Healthcare workers came under more pressure Monday to receive the COVID-19 vaccination following the release of a joint statement by 58 medical organizations supporting mandated vaccines for industry workers.
Among those advocating for a “vaccine-or-termination” policy are the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Public Health Association, and the National Pharmaceutical Association.
“This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being,” the statement reads, citing rising COVID-19 infections and deaths compared to a few months ago.
The problem with the statement is two-fold, according to one Arizona medical administrator. First, talk of firing unvaccinated healthcare workers at a time when there is a statewide shortage of nurses, specialty providers, and support staff will harm residents long-term, she told Arizona Daily Independent.
And second, the 180 degree turn made by medical and public health officials completely ignores the fact mask mandates, social distancing, and business lockdowns were undertaken in Arizona and many other states to ensure hospitals were not overwhelmed and overrun by COVID-19 patients. That worry is not as relevant now because medical workers are better trained on COVID-related treatment options and urgent care facilities and hospitals are well stocked with the equipment needed for diagnosis and treatment.
“They aren’t telling you that we’ve learned the last year about treating COVID-19. Instead, all you hear about are scary big numbers showing this month’s positive test rate increased over last month’s positive test rate,” the administrator said.
“What no one is telling medical workers or patients is how the number of people currently testing positive or being hospitalized remains well shy of the highs we saw last summer or earlier this year. And they are completely ignoring the fact even several hospitals in high-infection states have plenty of open beds and well-trained staff,” the administrator said.
The subject of required vaccinations for Arizona’s medical professionals was fueled last week when Banner Health and HonorHealth announced that employees could lose their jobs unless they refuse to provide proof of vaccination. Banner Health is Arizona’s largest private employer.
Both companies are giving their staff and volunteers until Nov. 1 to comply, raising questions are to whether the edict is motivated by concern to protect patients and co-workers or if there is a possible financial motivation. Last week a longtime Banner nurse told Arizona Daily Independent she questioned why something the company claims is urgently needed is not being required for another 90 days.
However, the immediate past president of the American Medical Association apparently is not concerned with whether current infection rates are manageable or not. She said Monday that forcing medical professional and others in the healthcare industry to be vaccinated is for the workers’ own good.
“It is critical that all people in the health care workforce get vaccinated against COVID-19 for the safety of our patients and our colleagues,” Dr. Susan R. Bailey said in a statement released by the AMA. “Increased vaccinations among health care personnel will not only reduce the spread of COVID-19 but also reduce the harmful toll this virus is taking within the health care workforce and those we are striving to serve.”
The AMA’s website also acknowledges “the historical mistrust of health care institutions, including among many in our own health care workforce. We must continue to address workers’ concerns, engage with marginalized populations, and work with trusted messengers to improve vaccine acceptance.”
Slightly less than one-half of adults in America have been fully vaccinated, although the percent by state widely varies. Arizona ranks below midway at 45 percent, while Vermont tops the charts at a 67 percent adult vaccination rate, followed closely by Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut.
On the far low end are Alabama, Mississippi, and the U.S. Virgin Islands which report less than 35 percent of their adult population vaccinated.