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Some worry vaccine mandate could add to health care worker shortage

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 10:20 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Under a new White House directive, most health care workers will be mandated to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s an ultimatum that some fear will drive health care workers who have resisted the shot out of their jobs during a time when they are needed most.

President Joe Biden unveiled a six-point strategy to combat the pandemic last week. That plan includes extending a vaccine mandate to most health care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, covering 17 million workers nationwide.

Though faced with the harsh reality of COVID-19 every day, there are still some health care workers in Alabama who haven’t been vaccinated.

“I do know of nurses and health care workers in general that do have concerns, just like our citizens here in the state of Alabama,” said Lindsey Harris, president of the Alabama State Nurses Association. “I can’t tell you why because the one thing that we do know is that the vaccine is safe.”

According to Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, a few hospitals in the state have already opted for mandatory vaccinations, and the hospitals that haven’t strongly encourage them.

“Some of them have gotten over 80% of their employees vaccinated without going the mandatory route,” Williamson said. “So what we want to see is everybody get vaccinated, and we want that to happen in a way that doesn’t force people to make a dichotomous choice to either stay in health care and get vaccinated or get out of the health care system.”

If some health care workers would rather quit than get vaccinated, it would only further contribute to what Williamson called a “dire” staffing shortage in the state. It would also further exhaust an already overworked and fatigued health care system.

READ MORE: UAB nurses gather outside hospital asking for better working conditions.

“We are short-staffed in every department,” Harris said. “And so it is very draining. It’s physically draining, but it’s also mentally draining.”

Williamson said there may be exceptions for why a health care worker can opt out of the White House’s new vaccine mandate, but until we know what those rules and exceptions are, it’s premature for health care workers to jump to the conclusion that they are going to have to be vaccinated.

“Rather than getting so invested in the idea that ‘I’m going to have to quit because I’m not going to be vaccinated,’ pause. Don’t make any commitments. Don’t make any life plans based on a presidential proposal,” Williamson said.

Implementation of the new mandate could be met with some backlash. According to the National Academy for State Health Policy, 22 states already had mandates for health care workers in place, but states and facilities that instituted requirements have often been met with lawsuits, protests and resignations.

Earlier this month, Gov. Kay Ivey reallocated $12.3 million from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund to attract more travel nurses to the state in hopes of helping the state’s struggling hospital system.

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