Anyone who works or volunteers at a state-run health care facility in North Carolina will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday.
The department told employees Tuesday about the impending vaccine requirements in a memo obtained by The News & Observer that a DHHS spokeswoman later confirmed.
The department “will require that that all employees, volunteers, students, trainees, as well as contracted and temporary workers working at state-operated facilities be fully vaccinated or receive an approved medical or religious exemption” by Sept. 30, wrote DHHS spokeswoman Bailey Pennington in an email to The News & Observer Tuesday night.
Anyone who doesn’t get fully vaccinated or obtain an exemption “shall be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, for unacceptable personal conduct,” says a DHHS email provided to The News & Observer by a tipster.
The department includes 14 adult care homes, mental health hospitals, alcohol and drug abuse treatment centers and developmental centers, psychiatric hospitals and residential programs for children, according to its website.
About 75% of the staff at the state-run facilities are already vaccinated, Pennington said. Three of the facilities have over 90% vaccinated, according to the memo sent to staff.
Vaccinating everyone else will help reduce further spread of coronavirus in the state, particular among patients who can often be at higher risk for getting the disease, Pennington said.
“As a health care system, we have a responsibility to protect the patients and residents that we serve – many of whom are at high risk for COVID-19 complications, are without other options for care, and in our care for long periods of time,” she said. “It is well documented that health care personnel often unintentionally introduce the virus into institutional settings prompting an outbreak.”
DHHS is part of the administration of Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.
North Carolina Speaker of the House Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, criticized the decision in a statement.
“North Carolinians will not be bullied into being vaccinated against their will, particularly with a vaccine that has yet to be approved by the FDA,” he said in a news release Tuesday night.
Moore said while he has been vaccinated himself, he thinks it should be a personal choice and expressed worry that this might cause people to quit or lose their jobs.
“This mandate could force health care workers to choose between their employment and their conscience,” he said. “Now is not the time to risk losing any of our healthcare workers who have been at the front lines of this pandemic.”
Congregate care facilities have been hotspots for coronavirus outbreaks throughout the pandemic for both patients, residents and staff.
Other healthcare systems are requiring their employees to get vaccinated as well, including Rex, UNC Medical Center and Duke hospitals, The News & Observer reported.
North Carolina is seeing a new resurgence of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Tuesday, the state reported over 1,000 people hospitalized with the disease, the highest number since early May, The News & Observer reported.
Health officials and doctors cite the more contagious delta variant and lack of vaccination for the surge in people getting COVID-19.
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