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BOISE (AP) – Three of Idaho’s largest providers of medical care announced Thursday that they would require COVID-19 vaccines for qualified staff.
The mandates from Primary Health Group, Saint Alphonsus Health System and St. Luke’s Health System is an attempt to keep staff and patients safe ahead of the busy cold and flu season, as coronavirus variants continue to spread in parts of the United States
Primary Health Group CEO Dr. David Peterman announced the employees at a company meeting. Primary Health has 21 family medicine and emergency clinics in southwestern Idaho, where about 500,000 patient visits are seen each year. Approx. 1
“This is the right thing to do today,” Peterman said. “If you think in terms of the one billion vaccine doses given worldwide – and the serious side effects are extremely rare – you begin to see that it is our duty to ensure that our clinics are safe.”
The company has demanded that its employees be immunized against other infectious diseases for a decade, including an annual flu vaccine, with exceptions for employees with medical or religious exceptions. Requiring a COVID-19 vaccine for workers is the next logical step in keeping clinics open and staff and patients safe, Peterman said.
Several hospital systems nationwide have imposed COVID-19 vaccines on workers, but Peterman said he believes Primary Health may be the first independent medical group to require the vaccine.
Employees took the news well, some asked questions about the medical emergency process, but no one expressed opposition, Peterman said. Within a few hours of the announcement, however, outrageous calls and emails from people who were not affiliated with the company – but still upset about the new policy – began to arrive. Most callers turned their anger on the employees who answered the phones, something Peterman said was “Just not right.”
“There have been a lot of positive comments from ‘outsiders’ and from our own staff,” Peterman said.
Similar mandates elsewhere have met with pushback. More than 100 employees at a hospital system in Houston sued to demand that staff be vaccinated after they were suspended without pay for not following the rule. Last month, a federal judge released the lawsuit against the Houston Methodist Hospital system, telling employees they were free to look for work elsewhere if they wanted to skip the vaccine, but that a fundamental part of any job is that employers can set limits. worker behavior in return for pay.
Peterman said he accepts that some of his own workers may find the demand “unacceptable.” Employees with documented medical exceptions or religious exceptions are not required to get the vaccine, but they will have to wear masks and eye protection while in clinics, he said.
“It simply came to our notice then. It is not meant as any kind of statement, ”he said. “Our intention is to be prepared for what comes in the fall.”
Schools in the region open in mid-August. Every year, the clinic sees an increase in viral diseases about a month after the schools open, Peterman said. Because children under the age of 12 are still unable to receive the vaccine and have low vaccination rates among older children in Idaho, non-vaccinated workers must be quarantined with coronavirus exposure or symptoms – which can mimic other viral diseases.
Peterman said he fears a repeat of last year: At one point, 30% of his staff were out due to a positive coronavirus test or exposure, forcing seven clinics to close temporarily. For more than two months, National Guard workers mobilized on the orders of Idaho Gov. Brad Little helping the primary care facilities by trying patients and guiding them to the right place.
“The key to prevention, the key to treatment, the key to vaccination are primary care clinics,” Peterman said. “So it is absolutely necessary that our clinics are safe and have staff there who can meet their needs. We do not know what will come in the fall or this winter. ”
The new faster-spreading delta variant, first discovered in India, by COVID-19, has moved through some regions, including in the nearby state of Utah. Health officials said Wednesday that the delta variant now represents about 80% of cases in this condition.
Idaho has lagged far behind some other states in testing coronavirus variants with limited capacity to perform the genetic sequencing tests that can identify mutations such as the delta variant. However, state health officials announced last month that they were working to increase testing for variants.
More than 195,000 cases of coronavirus have been detected in Idaho since the pandemic began, and more than 2,000 people have died from COVID-19.