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California medical organizations on Monday endorsed the state’s new COVID-19 vaccine rules for private and public health care workers, saying the requirements will help increase rates among professionals and protect patients receiving care.
As California battles a surge in cases largely due to the highly transmissible Delta variant, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced a new directive for state workers and health care employees to either provide proof of vaccination or continue wearing face coverings and get regularly tested for the virus.
The rule applies to all health care workers, as well as those employed by congregate settings like nursing homes, homeless shelters and jails. The policy will go into effect on Aug. 9, and facilities will have until Aug. 23 to submit the vaccine status of all their employees.
Unvaccinated health care workers at clinics must be tested once a week and workers at in-patient facilities must be tested twice a week. The public health order also dictates “enhanced testing and (personal protective equipment) protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” according to Newsom’s office.
Newsom’s decision comes at a time of increased pressure from health care workers nationwide for vaccination requirements.
The American Medical Association and the American Workers Association, along with nearly 60 other medical organizations, issued a joint statement on Monday calling for mandatory vaccination of all health care workers. The Department of Veterans Affairs also announced it will require its health care employees to become against COVID-19, making it the first federal agency to take that step.
The California Medical Association, which represents doctors, issued a statement supporting Newsom’s order.
“When someone comes into a health care setting, they deserve to know the medical personnel who care for them are doing everything in their power to keep them safe,” California Medical Association President Peter N. Bretan, Jr said.
Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat who wrote laws restricting exemptions for vaccine requirements in California schools, also said the new regulation will keep patients safe.
“Especially if you are patient-facing, you need to be vaccinated,” Pan said. “We also don’t need our health care workers getting sick and occupying beds in the hospitals that patients need ... Patients have a right, and their families have a right, to be safe.”
California tried vaccine lottery
The announcement is the latest state effort to drive up vaccination rates after an initial demand for shots earlier this year far exceeded the supply.
Once rates leveled out this summer, Newsom and state health officials tried to motivate people to get vaccinated by announcing millions of dollars worth of cash prizes and vacation getaways.
So far, 62% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated, and another 9% have received their first dose.
But since the state fully reopened its doors in mid-June, the positivity rate has crept up to 5.3%, according to the California Department of Public Health, spelling trouble for the weeks ahead.
Nearly 3,000 Californians are hospitalized with the virus, according to the Department of Public Health, up from less than 1,000 in the past six weeks but still well below the winter peak of more than 20,000, according to the agency.
Newsom said during a press conference that state projections are “sobering,” and indicate that hospitals and medical facilities could soon be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Nationwide there have been 513,130 cases of COVID-19 among health care personnel, with 1,661 total deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Almost all doctors are vaccinated
A survey published by the American Medical Association in June found that 96 percent of practicing physicians had been vaccinated for COVID-19. The most common reason given for not receiving the vaccine was concern about the vaccine being too new and having unknown long-term effects.
Joan Edelstein, a professor of nursing and community health at Sacramento State, UCSF and Cal State East Bay said she supported the state’s new vaccine policy, but said it doesn’t go far enough in enforcing vaccinations.
“Testing is not equivalent to vaccination,” Edelstein said, adding that the only exception should be for health care workers with medical exemptions.
Edelstein said most health care workers she knows are vaccinated. She said described the unvaccinated health care workers as “vaccine hesitant rather than vaccine opposed,” meaning they wanted to wait and see the long term effects of the vaccination.
Nurses have lower rates of vaccination compared to physicians, according to the American Medical Association.
The National Union of Healthcare Workers supported the new rule, saying that many of its members have worked to negotiate vaccine mandates in their individual workplaces.
“Throughout the pandemic, major hospital chains that received billions in federal COVID-19 relief funds have refused to test caregivers for the virus even as professional athletes were tested daily,” the statement read. “Today’s action strengthening that mandate for unvaccinated workers further demonstrates that Gov. Newsom will not let major health care companies put their profits above the health of their workers and patients.”