GREENSBORO, N.C. — Six major North Carolina hospital groups announced Thursday that all employees must get the COVID-19 vaccine, including the three hospital systems in the Triad - Cone Health, Novant Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health.
Atrium Health, Duke Health and UNC Health hospitals will also require employees to be immunized against COVID-19, according to a release from the North Carolina Healthcare Association.
Hospital officials said this comes as the Delta variant continues to spread and vaccination rates in North Carolina are at a standstill.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 99% of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths during May and June were among people not fully vaccinated.
Below is more information from each hospital system about the vaccine requirements. All information is attributed to the respective healthcare system.
Starting July 30, all Cone Health employees, including medical, dental, professional students, and volunteers, will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Cone Health said in a release Thursday. Employees have until October 1 to get fully vaccinated. They must submit proof by October 8.
“I sincerely believe that this decision is absolutely the right thing to do for our patients and the communities we serve,” said Cone Health CEO Mary Jo Cagle, MD. “Vaccination is critically important in health care settings. It is one way that we ensure a safe environment for all members of our community.”
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Cone Health said currently, about 40% of its staff is not vaccinated.
"This is rapidly becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated, as more than 97% of individuals who are being hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated," Cone Health said in its release.
Four unvaccinated health care workers in North Carolina have died from COVID-19, officials said.
Novant Health will require all employees to be fully vaccinated by September 15, according to a release from the hospital system.
"We appreciate and acknowledge the tens of thousands of team members who eagerly received the vaccine. Unfortunately, the reality is that vaccination rates remain stagnant across the country, including at Novant Health," hospital officials said.
Novant Health said putting in place a mandatory vaccine program is "essential to ensure the safety of our patients, team members and communities."
Novant Health said roughly 67% of its employees have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. Those rates are higher among higher-level clinical roles. Novant Health's physicians, for example, have accepted the vaccine at a higher rate (95%) than the overall team member vaccination rate.
The hospital group said if a Novant Health staff member doesn't get the vaccine by the September 15 deadline, their access will be suspended until their vaccination status is fully compliant. Non-compliance may lead to termination.
Wake Forest Baptist Health
Wake Forest Baptist Health released a joint statement with Atrium Health. The hospital groups said with the new Delta variant being more contagious, they view it as essential for staff to get vaccinated.
"Throughout the pandemic, our teammates have courageously cared for our patients, their loved ones and each other. The COVID-19 vaccines are proven to be safe and effective and mandating them for our health care workers will ensure we are doing all we can to keep our patients, our teammates and our communities safe," Julie Freischlag, CEO of Wake Forest Baptist Health, said.
WFBH said that all employees must be fully vaccinated by October 31.
"Teammates who do not follow this policy will receive counseling for failing to receive required vaccinations," WFBH said in a statement.
Any employee who does not get vaccinated and does not a religious or medical exemption could lose their job.
“Duke University Health System welcomes the N.C. Healthcare Association’s position supporting the requirement of COVID vaccinations for health care workers. We are proud to be among the first in North Carolina to implement this condition of employment.
DUHS is taking this action because we are committed to keeping our patients, team members and the community safe and healthy. Our position is based on scientific data from infectious disease and public health experts at Duke and around the U.S., which show the vaccines to be both safe and effective in significantly reducing COVID transmissions,” the hospital group said in a statement.
Duke Health will require employees to be vaccinated by September 21.
"We have started communicating to all of our teammates (including remote workers, physicians, medical residents, faculty, fellows, trainees, contractors, students/visiting students, members of the medical staff, temporary workers and volunteer staff) that they must be fully vaccinated or have an approved medical or religious exemption. By making the vaccine mandatory for our teammates, Atrium Health, including Wake Forest Baptist Health and Atrium Health Navicent, and along with multiple other health systems across the region, are taking reasonable steps to make sure that our teammates – many of whom remain on the frontlines, interacting directly with people who have COVID – are protected and available to care for members of the community as we deal with the next phases of the pandemic.
We view this vaccine no differently than our requirement for our teammates to get an annual flu shot, as well as be vaccinated for measles, chicken pox and other infectious diseases. The COVID-19 vaccine is essential to protect the health of our teammates and the communities we serve. We believe it is vital that we maintain the safest possible care environment for our patients and this is a critical component of our ability to remain COVID-Safe in the face of new variants impacting our region," the hospital group said in a statement.
Atrium employees must have both of their COVID-19 shots by October 31.
The NCHA said UNC Health hospitals, including UNC Medical Center, UNC Rex, UNC Johnston, UNC Chatham, UNC Rockingham and UNC Southeastern, will require employees to get vaccinated.
UNC Health will require all staff to be vaccinated by September 21.
The North Carolina Healthcare Association reports more than 4.7 million North Carolinians and more than 161 million Americans have been vaccinated with minimal side effects.