Health care workers receiving the COVID-19 vaccine
University of Vermont Health Network workers will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing.
The requirement was announced Friday and goes into effect October 1. It applies to the nearly 15,000 employees across the hospital network's six hospitals, though employees will be able to request medical or religious exemptions. The move comes as the highly infectious Delta variant continues to surge across the United States.
"The recent rise of COVID-19 cases in our region and across the country due to the highly contagious delta variant has made one thing crystal clear: vaccination is how we control the spread and hopefully end this pandemic," UVM Health Network CEO and president John Brumstead said in a written statement announcing the requirement. "As a health care provider, our consistent message through the pandemic has been to get vaccinated to protect yourself and others, and it is imperative that we do the right thing to protect our patients, our communities and our employees."
The federal government has ramped up pressure on employers to mandate vaccinations in recent weeks, and some Vermont medical associations have thrown support behind the move.
The Vermont Medical Society, which represents about 2,400 doctors and physician assistants, announced earlier this week that it had signed on to a joint statement urging mandates among health care employers. The Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems later issued a statement saying that it supported efforts to "mandate or encourage" vaccines.
The UVM Health Network's stance has shifted notably in recent weeks. A spokesperson told Seven Days in late June that the network had no plans to mandate the vaccine. The hospital then said earlier this week that it was considering the move.
Data provided by the network shows all six of its hospitals are reporting vaccination rates above 80 percent. That includes the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, the network's flagship hospital, where about 84 percent of all employees and roughly 90 percent of patient-facing staff have been vaccinated. Spokesperson Neal Goswami said the actual figures may be slightly higher given that employees who were vaccinated outside of the hospital facilities must submit that information to their employer.
The health network's requirement falls short of the mandates issued by other major hospital networks. That includes Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which announced earlier this week that vaccination will be a "condition of employment" for its 13,000-member workforce. Its employees must either submit proof of vaccination or submit a request for a medical or religious exemption by the end of next month.