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In June, Houston Methodist, a network of eight hospitals with 26,000 employees, became one of the first major hospital systems in the U.S. to mandate vaccination among employees—and promised to fire any who didn’t comply. Other hospitals quickly followed suit. The effort is part of a broader push to vaccinate healthcare workers amid the latest wave of COVID-19. According to the federal mandate, healthcare workers at facilities that receive federal funding must show proof of vaccination, with no testing option.

What is a mandate, and who does it affect?

A mandate is an official requirement. The Biden administration has issued an order that all businesses with more than 100 employees enforce the vaccine mandate, which is directed at employees at hospitals, not visitors. Exceptions are permitted in cases of religious beliefs or legitimate health conditions, but by and large, the majority of people working at hospitals with vaccine mandates have gotten their shots.

Further mandates are coming: a rule coming in October would require any hospitals, moving surgical centers and similar facilities — regardless of employee numbers — to require employee vaccinations in order to participate in Medicare and Medicaid. Meanwhile, hundreds of hospitals across the country have announced their own mandates, including Duke University Health System, the Mayo Clinic, Baton Rouge General, and many others.

Is there a difference between public and private hospitals?

The Biden Administration’s guidance applies to both institutions equally. In fact, private hospitals have by and large been among the first to issue vaccination mandates, while public hospitals in places like Texas proceeded with more caution due to tension with state governments.

Are healthcare workers really quitting?

Some of them. The announcement of vaccination mandates drew threats from some employees to walk off the job, raising fears that hospitals would face further labor shortages during a period of short-staffing. But in practice, not many people seem to have quit. Houston Methodist had about 153 resignations or terminations, just .005% of their 26,000 person workforce. Other hospitals have seen departures of around 5% of the workforce. Despite threats of mass resignations, in other words, a very small number of people are actually leaving.

Then why is my local hospital short staffed?

A recent report found that 18% of healthcare workers—around 1 in 5—have left their jobs in the field over the course of the pandemic. Worse, a further 31% have considered leaving, so things could get considerably worse.

In other words, the short staffing is likely a symptom of broader issues, not specifically the vaccine mandate. By helping reduce the transmission of COVID-19, vaccine mandates are taking pressure off of the medical system, and taking strain off of healthcare workers.

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