Ohio hospitals recommended to require COVID-19 vaccine for employees

Titus Wu
The Columbus Dispatch
The Ohio Hospital Association recommends its members set policies to require COVID-19 vaccination among hospital staff.

The Ohio Hospital Association is recommending its members individually set policies to require COVID-19 vaccination among staff.

The association, which represents around 245 hospitals, cited the more contagious delta variant for its new policy on Monday.

"Hospital employee and staff vaccination against COVID-19 will help ensure the long-term ability of our health care system to respond to the pandemic and the continuation of vital health care services," said Mike Abrams, the association's CEO.

A majority of COVID-related hospitalizations in Ohio and across the nation have been among unvaccinated people, and public health experts have warned that low vaccination rates could fuel the rise of new variants more effective against the vaccine.

Only half of Ohioans have been inoculated so far.

Some health care systems in the state have already begun to mandate the vaccine. Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health issued the requirement early July. Veterans Affairs hospitals in the state were among the first after the federal agency required it.

Soon after the hospital association's recommendation, OhioHealth, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Nationwide Children's Hospital announced they would mandate the vaccines.

In the Cincinnati area, hospitals are still opting to keep the vaccine an option but said a requirement is not off the table.

"We’ll continue to evaluate our policies as needed," said Amanda Nageleisen, spokeswoman for University of Cincinnati Health.

All Akron-area hospitals have also indicated that there is no mandate at this time.   

Health care workers were among the first group to be eligible for the vaccine, but hesitancy remains. For instance, about a quarter of Mount Carmel staff were unvaccinated before the requirement. And only 75% of Nationwide Children's Hospital employees were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday. 

The hospital association said it doesn't have numbers on how many Ohio hospitals are now requiring the vaccine or how many hospital staff in the state are vaccinated. But there's been a "general movement toward" considering requiring the vaccine in ongoing discussions among its members, said a spokesperson.

The association is asking members to provide flexibility and paid time for personnel to get the vaccine and deal with its side effects.

If an employee refuses vaccination, the association outlined potential consequences, from requiring masks and periodic testing to unpaid leave or termination.

Other states' hospitals have also looked at vaccine mandates. But the trend has faced pushback and resistance, as some staff have petitioned against mandates. A protest was held after Mount Carmel announced its requirement.

Some hospital workers and opponents have argued such mandates infringe on individual decision-making over their own bodies. Hospitals pointed out that vaccine mandates are not new, such as requiring the flu vaccine.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which oversees workplace discrimination rules, has said that employers are allowed to require COVID-19 vaccines.

Ultimately, such mandates are needed, hospitals have argued.

"We're starting to see hospitalizations increase. We're seeing cases increasing. We need to make sure all options are out there," said John Palmer, spokesperson for the Ohio Hospital Association.

Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Anne Saker, Columbus Dispatch reporter Ken Gordon and Akron Beacon Journal reporter Betty Lin-Fisher contributed.

Titus Wu is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.