Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network (AHN) officials today announced new steps the organization is taking to drive higher levels of COVID-19 vaccination among its 43,000+ employees. To date, approximately 73% of AHN’s 21,000 employees have been fully vaccinated and Highmark Health’s goal is to achieve a 100% vaccination rate for all eligible employees across the enterprise by the end of September.
With escalating concerns nationally and globally about emerging COVID-19 variants, such as the Delta variant, and a pandemic resurgence taking place in many areas of the country where vaccination rates are low, a strong and growing chorus of leading health care organizations are calling for stricter vaccination requirements for health professionals, who are at greatest risk of exposure to the virus and who are critical to the success of the nation’s public health infrastructure.
“Since the beginning of this unprecedented health crisis in our community, AHN and Highmark Health have put the safety of patients, caregivers and the community at the forefront of our pandemic response strategy,” said Brian Parker, MD, AHN’s Chief Quality and Learning Officer. “It is abundantly clear however that the single most important thing an individual can do to protect themselves and others, and to help us bring this difficult pandemic to an end, is to receive the vaccine. We expect all of our employees to heed that call, and the new requirements we are putting in place are intended to help us achieve that goal.”
Highmark Health and AHN expect all the organization’s employees to be vaccinated by September 30, unless they have a religious or medical exemption, Dr. Parker said. Effective August 16, unvaccinated AHN employees are required to wear a face shield at all times while working in a hospital or clinical setting, in addition to wearing the face masks that are required of all employees and visitors at the Network’s facilities.
Unvaccinated Highmark Health employees too will be required to wear masks at all times when working in the organization’s facilities. As an added precaution and as recommended by the CDC, fully vaccinated Highmark Health employees will also be encouraged to wear a face masks while at work sites, particularly if they are in a geographic location with high transmission of the virus and/or if they cannot social distance in their work environment.
“We fully intend to reach 100% of our eligible employees having received the J&J single dose vaccine, or at least the first of the Pfizer and Moderna two doses by September 30,” Dr. Parker said. “We will be closely monitoring our employee’s response to the new requirements we are implementing as further incentives to get vaccinated, and additional measures are being contemplated if necessary.”
Dr. Parker said one additional measure could be the mandatory weekly testing of unvaccinated employees.
More than 50 prestigious national health care organizations issued a joint statement recently advocating that all health professionals to be vaccinated, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association, the American College of Surgeons and the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Prominent health care systems across the country are also now making COVID vaccination a condition of employment, including the Veterans Administration (VA), Mayo Clinic, New York Presbyterian Hospital, the University of Pennsylvania Health System, Houston Methodist, Banner Health, Yale New Haven, Trinity Health and the Hospital for Special Surgery in NY, among others.
Dr. Parker believes even more health care providers and business of every sort will be moving to require employees to be vaccinated after the FDA fully approves both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines, which is expected to happen sometime in the next one to two months. The vaccines are currently approved by the FDA under an emergency authorization use (EAU) only.