LOUISVILLE, Ky. — UofL Health is the first hospital system in Kentucky requiring all of its workers to take the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 1, and now other health care systems are considering the same move.
"We've been talking about it as well," said Dr. Chuck Anderson, chief medical health officer at Baptist Health Louisville. "This is a public health thing and if you’re sick in the hospital, you want someone who’s protected taking care of you and if I’m taking care of someone with COVID infection, I would like to have myself vaccinated."
Anderson's team is waiting for at least one of the vaccines to be fully approved by the FDA before any requirements — something UofL Health noted in its announcement.
"Most facilities require flu vaccine presently, so I see it as an extension of the flu vaccine once it has final FDA approval," Anderson said.
UofL Health said it has been requiring employees to take the flu shot for years. About 70% of its team members are already fully vaccinated from the virus. Those with medical or religious reasons can apply for an exemption.
In a statement, Norton Healthcare did not say if it will consider the rule, but that employees are encouraged to be vaccinated.
"Private employers that are located in an at-will state can require their employees to get vaccinated," said Vickie Yates Glisson, a Louisville healthcare and health insurance lawyer.
Kentucky is an at-will state. Glisson said most employers have not introduced the vaccine requirement because they are most likely waiting for the FDA's full approval for an important reason.
"This vaccine has been approved under the emergency use authorization of the FDA and that law specifically states that an individual should be given the right to refuse or accept the product of the vaccine," Glisson said. "You have to give them alternative, you have to tell them the benefits and the risk."
If the FDA does not make the approval by September, UofL Health said it will push back the deadline. Workers who are not exempt and choose not to get the vaccine may then face disciplinary action.
"You're going to see this play out in the statehouses across the country as state lawmakers introduce legislation it looks primarily to say they are opposed to the mandating of this particular vaccine," Glisson said.
Deborah Campbell, vice president of quality and health professions at Kentucky Hospital Association, said each health care facility is different in terms of size and staff. Her team supports each hospital no matter the decision it makes on whether to require staff to take the vaccine or not.
“We see our role more as informing them about the vaccine," Campbell said. "And then allowing them to look at the very unique situations that they find themselves in and then make the best decision that they can for their hospital."