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'Most powerful tool we have': Baptist Health requiring all workers to get COVID-19 vaccine

"In our defense against new variants invading our region, vaccination is the most powerful tool we have," Baptist Interim CMO Dr. Timothy Groover said.
Credit: First Coast News

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Baptist Health announced Tuesday it will require all of its team members and professional staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 15, citing "ethical responsibility."

The requirement comes following "the dramatic rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Florida and in anticipation of full FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccines before year-end," a release announcing the new requirement says.

The vaccine mandate comes as new variants have contributed to a 300% increase in hospitalizations, with more than 90% of those at Baptist Health being unvaccinated, according to the release.

Baptist Health will grant exemptions for medical contraindications and "sincerely held" religious beliefs, the release says.

“While we respect personal choice, the aggressive rates of infection resulting from the Delta variant have made it necessary to take this step,” said Michael A. Mayo, DHA, FACHE, President and CEO of Baptist Health in the release.

The release also cites the support of mandatory vaccinations among health care workers by medical organizations such as the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, American College of Physicians and more.

"In our defense against new variants invading our region, vaccination is the most powerful tool we have," Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr. Timothy Groover, MD, said in the release. "The evidence strongly confirms that COVID-19 vaccination reduces hospitalizations, severity of illness and deaths. In order for us to care for the community, we must remain healthy ourselves."

The release points out that Baptist already requires its workers to receive the flu shot yearly. This year, the health care system will offer COVID-19 vaccines at the same time as annual flu shots, so that it will be easy for team members to get both done at once.

"The time has come to provide a deadline," Mayo said. "It is our ethical responsibility to do all we can to protect the health of our patients, team members and the communities we serve."

As the area's largest private employer, Baptist Health leaders feel an obligation to lead by example, the release says.

The announcement comes one week after Mayo Clinic announced it would require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.