Dr. Marc Kutler, Northwestern Medical Center, COVID-19 vaccine, 12-16-2020

Dr. Marc Kutler, from Northwestern Medical Center’s Emergency Department, was among the first at the St. Albans hospital to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

ST. ALBANS — With the rise in COVID-19 cases in the area brought about in part by the new Delta variant, Northwestern Medical Center is setting a new requirement in place for its 784 health care workers.

By Sept. 30, all staff, contracted staff, medical staff and volunteers at NMC must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“It is abundantly clear that the single best measure we can take to decrease the spread, morbidity and mortality of COVID-19 in our community is vaccination,” Dr. Dean French, NMC’s chief executive officer, stated in an Aug. 11 press release.

NMC’s vaccination announcement came six days after The University of Vermont Health Network’s. Its nearly 15,000 employees must be vaccinated as a condition of employment by Oct. 1.

“We are not alone in this decision,” Dr. John Brumsted, UVM Health Network’s president and CEO, stated in an Aug. 6 press release. “Regionally, and across the country, many types of employers – including hospitals and health systems – have instituted mandatory vaccination as a next step as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.”

In the last 14 days, 97 cases of the virus were logged in Franklin County, an increase that is reflected state and nationwide.

As of Wednesday, 74.7% of the county’s eligible population received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Vermont Department of Health.

The first health care workers at NMC were vaccinated on Dec 16, 2020. Its emergency department and Intensive Care Unit staffs, as well as the community’s EMS workers, were prioritized in Phase 1A of the country’s vaccine distribution.

“I feel blessed,” Dr. Marc Kutler, an emergency department provider, said when he received his first dose. “I feel very fortunate about getting the vaccine. I’ve been waiting for this day to come. It’s the beginning of turning things around.”

By mid-January, NMC had vaccinated over 1,700 hospital staff and community providers in Phase 1A with either Pfizer-BioTech or Moderna vaccines, according to a notice from the hospital.

All hospital employees subsequently became eligible to receive the vaccine through the state’s age-banding process, and if they haven’t yet gotten the jab, they have until Sept. 30 to do so.

Exemptions will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis through NMC’s Employee Health service, according to the Aug. 11 release. Staff who are not fully vaccinated will be required to have a weekly COVID-19 test and successfully test negative to continue their scheduled work.

Unvaccinated individuals who test positive or who failed to complete a test by the end of the week will be unable to work the following week.

“We fully understand that this is a personal decision, but in the context of our mission to provide exceptional healthcare in a safe environment of care, we must step up our efforts to become fully vaccinated,” Dr. French said.

On Aug. 5, the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems announced its support of efforts and policies that mandate or encourage vaccines for entire health care staffs.

“Hospitals have played a major role in coordinating Vermont’s effective response to the pandemic and in helping to educate Vermonters,” the release stated. “Meanwhile, caregivers throughout the country have seen the dire consequences of COVID infections and skipping vaccination. Health care workers now have an opportunity to help boost public awareness and confidence by becoming 100% vaccinated themselves.”

“This is a crucial time in the COVID-19 battle. Our state continues to follow the science and the evidence, which shows vaccines are our best, safest, and most effective way to avert the still dangerous virus. VAHHS fully supports hospitals and health systems that take well thought out steps to ensure their workforces are protected.”

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