Five North Carolina hospital systems will now require all of their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Atrium Health, Novant Health, Cone Health, Duke Health and Wake Forest Baptist made the announcement on Thursday, according to a news release from the North Carolina Healthcare Association. Six UNC Health hospitals — UNC Medical Center, UNC Rex, UNC Johnston, UNC Chatham, UNC Rockingham and UNC Southeastern — will also make vaccines mandatory.
“As we all know, vaccination is the single most effective tool we have to stop the spread of this virus and keep the patients in our care safe from COVID-19,” leaders of Charlotte-based Atrium Health wrote in an email sent to employees, which the hospital system provided to WFAE.
The email said that all hospital system employees — including remote workers, physicians, medical residents, faculty, fellows, trainees, contractors and volunteers — are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31. If employees choose to request a medical or religious exemption from the vaccine, that exemption must be approved by the same deadline.
Novant Health, which is based in Winston-Salem but has a large presence in the Charlotte area, is requiring all of its team members to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 15.
“We appreciate and acknowledge the tens of thousands of team members who eagerly received the vaccine,” Novant Health said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the reality is that vaccination rates remain stagnant across the country, including at Novant Health.”
According to a Novant spokesperson, the hospital system will consider “a few medical and religious exemptions … on a case-by-case basis.” The spokesperson said those exemptions and the requirements to apply for them were shared with Novant employees.
On Thursday, the North Carolina Healthcare Association, which has 130 member hospital systems, voiced its support for mandatory vaccine policies and commended the six systems that chose to implement such requirements.
“Hospital and health system employee vaccination against COVID-19 is vital to safely care for patients by protecting them from infection, and to mitigate the spread of the virus within healthcare facilities and among clinicians, patients and their families and friends,” the NCHA said in a news release.
North Carolina health secretary Mandy Cohen also voiced support for the requirements in a statement.
“Thank you to the North Carolina Healthcare Association, and the health systems that are leading the way requiring vaccination for employees, for taking action to protect the health care workforce, their patients, our communities and the state,” she said in the statement. “Vaccinations are our way out of the pandemic. Don’t wait to vaccinate.”
The announcements come as the delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly across the U.S., including in North Carolina. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated this week that the more contagious strain accounted for roughly 83% of new COVID-19 cases.
At least four North Carolina hospital systems had previously said they would urge their employees to get vaccinated but would not require it: Novant, Duke, UNC Health and Wake Forest Baptist.
“Our goal is to educate and inform our team members around the benefits and the safety of the vaccine and let them make an informed decision around whether to receive it,” Becky Bean, senior vice president and chief pharmacy officer at Novant, told WFAE in December 2020.
In January, just a month after the vaccine was made available, half of hospital workers in Charlotte had not scheduled a COVID-19 vaccine.