All 60 of Maryland’s hospitals and health systems will require their employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the Maryland Hospital Association announced Wednesday.
Each hospital or health system will set a date by which their employees have to receive the inoculation to remain employed. They will grant medical and religious exemptions as required by law.
“Maryland hospitals have seen firsthand the devastation COVID-19 has caused to the people of our state,” said the consensus statement released by the MHA. “They understand how deadly this disease can be. Leaders at Maryland’s hospitals and health systems are stepping up to protect the health and wellness of their communities.”
Currently, just over 70% of Marylanders have received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The MHA said in its statement that the decision to require employees to be vaccinated was informed by guidance from medical experts and data showing that the benefits and effectiveness of the vaccine far outweigh the minimal risks.
The MHA believes that nearly all hospitals will have this requirement in place by the end of the year. Some have already set dates; the University of Maryland Medical System, which employs over 29,000 people across 13 hospitals and many urgent care clinics, is asking employees to be vaccinated by Sept. 1.
From that point forward, those who choose to remain unvaccinated will be required to be tested for COVID-19 weekly. Once the vaccine becomes fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, though, only those with religious or medical exemptions will be allowed to remain unvaccinated. The policy mirrors the system’s approach to influenza vaccines and will apply to all people who work in UMMS locations, including contractors, volunteers and students.
“We follow the science, and the scientific evidence tells us that from a safety and efficacy standpoint, COVID-19 vaccines represent a dramatic accomplishment and a clear pathway out of this pandemic,” said Mohan Suntha, UMMS’ president and CEO. “As health care professionals, we accept that we hold ourselves to a higher standard and we embrace our mission to devote ourselves to the welfare of those in our care. COVID-19 vaccines are by far the best way to stop the spread of the virus, and given our ethical obligation to our patients, we must take every appropriate measure to keep our hospitals and other locations as safe as possible.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine will also require employees, contractors, volunteers and students to be vaccinated by Sept. 1, clarifying in their news release that that means personnel must have received their second dose no later than two weeks before that date (two weeks after the final dose of the vaccine is when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines an individual as being “fully vaccinated”). Currently over 75% of Hopkins’ workforce has been vaccinated.
Hopkins will also require those who do not get vaccinated due to medical and religious exemptions to be tested weekly. Both Hopkins and UMMS will require employees to submit documentation to show they have been vaccinated, although UMMS spokesman Michael Schwartzberg noted that UMMS already has records of those who were vaccinated by the hospital system, so those individuals need not submit further documentation.
Other hospitals are expected to make announcements in the coming weeks. LifeBridge Health, which has five locations, has not yet set a date by which employees must be vaccinated.
“At LifeBridge Health, we are encouraging all of our team members to get the COVID-19 vaccine. In deciding on when we would make it mandatory, we are looking at several different factors, including full FDA approval for the vaccine beyond the current emergency use authorization,” spokeswoman Sharon Boston said in a statement.