When COVID vaccinations were first rolled out in the winter and spring, there was significant hope that 2021 would bring about the end of the pandemic. But a summer of surging COVID numbers amid the Delta variant and a significant slowdown of vaccinations prompted many officials to take a new approach to stopping the virus: vaccine mandates. From indoor spaces in many major cities to workplaces across the country, proof of vaccination has become essential in a number of different sectors. And there are more mandates on the way: Another major restriction is set to go into effect for many at the end of this month.
Health care workers in Colorado are now required to be vaccinated against COVID by Oct. 31. Gov. Jared Polis issued the mandate in mid-August and it was approved by the Colorado Board of Health on Aug. 30. Under the rule, thousands of health care facilities licensed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will be required to ensure that workers are have received their final shot of a COVID vaccine no later than Oct. 31.
Individuals hired at these facilities, including hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, dialysis treatment clinics, freestanding emergency departments, assisted living residences, nursing homes, hospices and home care agencies, after Oct. 31 will also be required to obtain full vaccination status prior to beginning work, per the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. That means unvaccinated workers are effectively barred from seeking employment at these facilities going forth.
"Caretakers interacting with medically fragile patients without being vaccinated with the free, effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine are recklessly endangering others," the CDPHE said in a statement to CBS4 Denver. Around 30 percent of health care workers in affected licensed facilities are still unvaccinated, per the health department.
Colorado is not the first state to issue a vaccine mandate for health care workers. Thousands of employees in this field have been required to get vaccinated in a number of states, including New York, California, Oregon, and Washington. Although most health care workers are already required to get immunizations for other infectious diseases, such as measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox, some are still resisting the COVID vaccine, according to The Wall Street Journal.
New York State's largest healthcare provider, Northwell Health, fired 1,400 employees who refused vaccinations in early October, per Reuters. And Legacy Health in Oregon has let go of nearly 500 unvaccinated workers, as reported by The Oregonian on Oct. 21.
But the vaccine mandates have also pushed thousands of health care workers to get vaccinated. In California, major health systems reported that the state's vaccine mandate boosted vaccination rates to more than 90 percent, per The New York Times. The Washington State Hospital Association also reported an overall staff vaccination rate of 88 percent following the cutoff for its Oct. 18 deadline, as reported by The News Tribune.
"We have seen that these vaccine mandates get more people vaccinated," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said during a Sept. 27 interview on Good Morning America, adding that the potential for lost health care workers does create a challenge. "What I would say is [we need] to do some work, to educate these health care workers, to meet them where they are, to understand where their hesitancy is so we can get them vaccinated and get them back to work."