One of the last major barriers in getting U.S. healthcare workers vaccinated against COVID-19 was removed Aug. 23, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (now marketed as Comirnaty).
“While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, … the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD, in a statement. “While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated. Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic.”
An Aug. 31, 2021, MGMA Stat poll found that almost half (46%) of medical practices will require COVID-19 vaccination for workers following the FDA approval of Comirnaty, compared to 31% of practices that responded “no” and 23% that were unsure. The poll had 1,071 applicable responses.
This signals a shift from a similar MGMA Stat poll on Aug. 3, which found 18% of practices mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for workers, while another 69% recommended vaccinations and only 13% had no policy in place.
In an Aug. 4 statement from Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, MMM, FAAFP, FACMPE, president and chief executive officer, MGMA:
MGMA strongly supports the efforts of our nation’s medical groups to vaccinate their employees against COVID-19. All scientific evidence has shown that vaccines are the safest and most effective way to control this deadly pandemic. As we work together to protect our patients and communities, MGMA supports medical groups that choose to implement policies requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees. In doing so, we urge medical groups to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) & the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, state and local laws, and provide all appropriate medical and legal exemptions. With hospitalization and death rates among unvaccinated individuals on the rise, medical groups must take the lead in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
A closer look: How vaccine requirements have evolved
- In mid-August, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced an effort with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop an emergency regulation to require staff vaccinations in Medicare- and Medicaid-participating nursing homes, effectively threatening to cut off federal funding to organizations that fail to comply. [Read more in MM+M.]
- The New York State health department recently removed religious exemptions from emergency regulations that require hospital workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19. [Read our Aug. 4 data story for the EEOC’s technical guidance on exemptions and reasonable accommodations.]
- Hospitals, health systems and practices that require COVID-19 vaccinations may need to update systems for tracking worker vaccinations to account for suggested booster shots eight months after a second dose, with the rollout for third doses set to begin in mid-September.
- It remains to be seen if the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will endorse the booster-dose plan proposed by the Biden administration.
Handling vaccine holdouts
A recent 50-state survey from the COVID States Project (a joint project of Northeastern, Harvard, Rutgers and Northwestern universities) found that healthcare workers are more enthusiastic about vaccination than the general public and that, as of July 2021, only 27% of healthcare workers were unvaccinated.
However, that same survey found another 15% of healthcare workers were considered “vaccine resistant,” or unlikely to get a vaccine if/when made available to them. The study also found that there are few “wait-and-see” views among healthcare workers: They either already have been vaccinated or are refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
This continues to pose a dilemma for healthcare leaders seeking to keep their providers, staff and patients safe as the Delta variant continues its summer surge throughout the United States. The dilemma: In a tightening labor market, do you lose more workers because of a vaccine mandate or from potential COVID-19 cases?
One of the researchers on the COVID States Project — David Lazer, PhD, university distinguished professor of political science and computer sciences at Northeastern University — told News@Northeastern that it’s difficult to say what should get credit for any increased vaccination rates among healthcare workers in the weeks to come: Did FDA approval give hesitant workers the confidence to get vaccinated, or did vaccine mandates that threatened their continued employment make the difference?
Lazer also highlighted that lower-educated, lower-salaried healthcare workers were far more likely to be vaccine resistant than those surveyed who had undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, telling News@Northeastern that it might be a case of “cynicism” and skepticism about health systems in general.
The role of misinformation
Several healthcare leaders have pointed to a proliferation of lies, conspiracy theories and misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines as contributing to vaccine refusals. The World Health Organization recently cited COVID-19 misinformation as a driving factor for a worsening of the pandemic despite vaccine rollout. Earlier this summer, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, said that the spread of health misinformation during the pandemic is “a serious threat to public health.” [Read the Surgeon General’s advisory report, Confronting Health Misinformation.]
Misinformation is also causing tension within provider organizations as vaccination mandates roll out. As Slate reports, it can create a climate in which vaccinated nurses can develop “a sense of being sabotaged by their own colleagues.”
The significant threat posed to public health by continued spread of COVID-19 misinformation has prompted the Federation of State Medical Boards to warn about potential suspension or revocation of medical licenses for physicians who create or spread vaccine misinformation or disinformation.
- MGMA COVID-19 Recovery Center — Find resources and tools by subject, ranging from telehealth and safety to coding/billing and reimbursement.
- MGMA COVID-19 Federal Assistance and Advocacy Center — Stay up to date on the latest waivers, regulatory updates, and relief available to medical practices throughout the pandemic.
- MGMA Stat: Measuring the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic — Find all our pandemic-related MGMA Stat poll results and links to data stories.
Do you have any best practices or success stories to share regarding COVID-19 policies? Please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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