CONCORD – The New Hampshire Hospital Association released a statement Tuesday supporting hospitals and other health care facilities that mandate COVID vaccinations for their employees.
Many hospitals in New Hampshire are heading in that direction, including Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover as well as Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, the state’s largest medical care provider.
HCA Healthcare-owned Portsmouth Regional and Frisbie Memorial hospitals are “strongly encouraging” but not mandating vaccines for employees at this time.
As COVID cases rise, mainly attributable to the delta variant, there is more and more concern over the highly contagious virus, adding a layer of urgency to making sure people are vaccinated.
This week, New York became the first state to mandate proof of vaccination for indoor dining, gyms and other entertainment venues.
Doctors say vaccinated people still can get the Delta version of COVID, but that if they do, their cases will be less severe. They are unlikely to need hospitalization nor do they have a high risk of death. Hospitals are seeing rising numbers of cases, and in almost all, they are in people who are not vaccinated.
“The health and safety of patients is at the core of the mission of New Hampshire hospitals and at the forefront of all that they do, and for that reason, the New Hampshire Hospital Association supports the adoption of mandated COVID-19 vaccine policies for employees at New Hampshire’s hospitals and health systems,” the Hospital Association said in a press release.
The NHHA said hospital and health system employee vaccinations against COVID-19 are critical to ensuring safe environments of care for all patients by protecting them from infection, and to mitigating the spread of the virus within healthcare facilities. The scientific evidence behind vaccines has clearly demonstrated that they are safe, highly effective and reduce both transmission and harm, and hospitals already require vaccinations for other highly communicable diseases such as the flu, as an infection control measure.
“Many regional and national organizations representing medical professionals have recently stated their support for mandated COVID-19 vaccines for healthcare workers to control the spread of this deadly disease, especially within healthcare facilities,” said Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association. “This is absolutely something we support in an effort to protect both our patients and our employees from COVID-19.”
A recent study in New Hampshire conducted by the Josiah Bartlett Center using state data reinforced that vaccinated patients are less likely to fall severely ill and require hospitalization. Since the beginning of February, according to state data, unvaccinated individuals have accounted for 99% of New Hampshire’s COVID-19 cases and 98% of deaths.
“Our actions are critical to stopping the spread of COVID-19, and we must all remain vigilant and continue taking steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, and most importantly, that means to get vaccinated.” said Ahnen.
Most hospitals, and many health care facilities already require, or strongly suggest that their employees get the vaccine, unless there is a compelling medical reason for them not to.
“I am in full support of this step,” said state Sen. Dr. Tom Sherman, D-Rye. “Unvaccinated NH residents and visitors bear the responsibility for this increase, putting all other Granite Staters at increased risk of illness and death, especially those who for medical reasons cannot be vaccinated, children (including their own) under 12 who are too young to be vaccinated, and even the vaccinated frail or immune compromised at higher risk of significant breakthrough infection.”
“Additionally, their failure or refusal to be vaccinated presents an opportunity for COVID, a virus with a demonstrated ability to mutate into more severe and virulent strains, to produce even more contagious and toxic variants than it has to date. We must recognize this irresponsible behavior for what it is and continue all efforts to protect the health and economy of our state and its residents. Had everyone eligible for vaccination done so when it was first offered, we would not now be faced with this recurrent threat to our freedom to move about safely in our daily lives. Everyone who can be vaccinated should get vaccinated — now.”
Dr. Walter Hoerman, of Lilac City Pediatrics, part of Greater Seacoast Community Health, which also includes Families First and Goodwin Health, said the staff of Lilac City Pediatrics is 100% vaccinated.
“There is discussion at GSCH as well, but still no update on their decision,” said Hoerman.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health announced this week they will require COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees as a condition of employment, noting that as with their mandatory flu vaccination policy, employees will be able to submit requests for medical and religious exemptions.
Effective Sept. 30, all DH employees will be required to submit documentation that they have been fully vaccinated, or to obtain an approved medical or religious exemption through an established process.
“While the great majority of our employees have been vaccinated, some of our colleagues remain unvaccinated,” said CEO and President Dr. Joanne M. Conroy. “We take very seriously our obligation to protect the health and well-being of our patients and their families, our community and one another. As New Hampshire’s largest provider of health care and the state’s largest private employer, we must lead by example in the arena of public health.”
“There has been enormous progress in controlling the spread of COVID-19 since the introduction of vaccines late last year, and D-HH is committed to seeing this process through to the end. I’m thankful to those who have already been vaccinated, and for those who have not, I thank you in advance for taking this very important step to help keep our patients, our community and each other, safe from the virus.”
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recently referred to the rising case numbers as “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, with approximately 13,000 employees, includes Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, Cheshire Medical Center, New London Hospital, Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire and 24 Dartmouth-Hitchcock multi-specialty clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont.
Adam Bagni, director of communications for Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, said WDH, as part of Mass General Brigham, will follow guidelines released for Partners facilities.
In a release, Mass General Brigham announced that it will require its 80,000 employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grants approval of one of the three vaccines. More than 85% of Mass General Brigham employees have already been vaccinated — one of the highest rates nationwide among health care systems.
Portsmouth Regional and Frisbie Memorial Hospitals are not requiring employees to be vaccinated at this time and offered the following statement:
“While colleagues at Frisbie Memorial Hospital, Parkland Medical Center and Portsmouth Regional Hospital are not required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 at this time, our infectious disease experts as well as those at the CDC are strongly encouraging vaccination as a critical step to protect individuals from the virus. Our hospitals follow guidance outlined by the CDC regarding protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in our facilities, including universal masking for all colleagues, patients and visitors.”
The FDA has accepted Pfizer’s application for full approval for review and full approval could come in September, according to a New York Times report.